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359

VI.

MUTUAL INTERCESSION.

"Finally, brethren, pray for us, that the word of the Lord may run and be glorified, even as also it is with you; and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and evil men; for all have not faith. But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and guard you from the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord touching you, that ye both do and will do the things which we command. And the Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patience of Christ."—2 Thess. iii. 1-5 (R.V.).

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

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

Hardly anything in the New Testament gives us a more characteristic look of the Apostle's soul than his 360 desire that the word of the Lord should run. The word of the Lord is the gospel, of which he is the principal herald to the nations; and we see in his choice of this word his sense of its urgency. It was glad tidings to all mankind; and how sorely needed wherever he turned his eyes! The constraint of Christ's love was upon his heart, the constraint of men's sin and misery; and he could not pass swiftly enough from city to city, to proclaim the reconciling grace of God, and call men from darkness unto light. His eager heart fretted against barriers and restraints of every description; he saw in them the malice of the great enemy of Christ: "I was minded once and again to come unto you, but Satan hindered me." Hence it is that he asks the Thessalonians to pray for their removal, that the word of the Lord may run. The ardour of such a prayer, and of the heart which prompts it, is far enough removed from the common temper of the Church, especially where it has been long established. How many centuries there were during which Christendom, as it was called, was practically a fixed quantity, shut up within the limits of Western European civilisation, and not aspiring to advance a single step beyond it, fast or slow. It is one of the happy omens of our own time that the apostolic conception of the gospel as an ever-advancing, ever-victorious force, has begun again to take its place in the 361 Christian heart. If it is really to us what it was to St. Paul—a revelation of God's mercy and judgment which dwarfs everything else, a power omnipotent to save, an irresistible pressure of love on heart and will, glad tidings of great joy that the world is dying for—we shall share in this ardent, evangelical spirit, and pray for all preachers that the word of the Lord may run very swiftly. How it passed in apostolic times from land to land and from city to city—from Syria to Asia, from Asia to Macedonia, from Macedonia to Greece, from Greece to Italy, from Italy to Spain—till in one man's lifetime, and largely by one man's labour, it was known throughout the Roman world. It is easy, indeed, to over-estimate the number of the early Christians; but we can hardly over-estimate the fiery speed with which the Cross went forth conquering and to conquer. Missionary zeal is one note of the true Apostolic Church.

But Paul wishes the Thessalonians to pray that the word of the Lord may be glorified, as well as have free course. The word of the Lord is a glorious thing itself. As the Apostle calls it in another place, it is the gospel of the glory of the blessed God. All that makes the spiritual glory of God—His holiness, His love, His wisdom—is concentrated and displayed in it. But its glory is acknowledged, and in that sense heightened, when its power is seen in the salvation of 362 men. A message from God that did nothing would not be glorified: it would be discredited and shamed. It is the glory of the gospel to lay hold of men, to transfigure them, to lift them out of evil into the company and the likeness of Christ. For anything else it does, it may not fill a great space in the world's eye; but when it actually brings the power of God to save those who receive it, it is clothed in glory. Paul did not wish to preach without seeing the fruits of his labour. He did the work of an evangelist; and he would have been ashamed of the evangel if it had not wielded a Divine power to overcome sin and bring the sinful to God. Pray that it may always have this power. Pray that when the word of the Lord is spoken it may not be an ineffective, fruitless word, but mighty through God.

There is an expression in Titus ii. 10 analogous to this: "Adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things." That expression is less fervent, spoken at a lower level, than the one before us; but it more readily suggests, for that very reason, some duties of which we should be reminded here also. It comes home to all who try to bring their conduct into any kind of relation to the gospel of Christ. It is only too possible for us to disgrace the gospel; but it is in our power also, by every smallest action we do, to illustrate it, to set it off, to put its beauty in the true light before the eyes of 363 men. The gospel comes into the world, like everything else, to be judged on its merits; that is, by the effects which it produces in the lives of those who receive it. We are its witnesses; its character, in the general mind, is as good as our character; it is as lovely as we are lovely, as strong as we are strong, as glorious as we are glorious, and no more. Let us seek to bear it a truer and worthier witness than we have yet done. To adorn it is a calling far higher than most of us have aimed at; but if it comes into our prayers, if its swift diffusion and powerful operation are near our hearts in the sight of God, grace will be given us to do this also.

The next request of the Apostle has more of a personal aspect, yet it also has his work in view. He asks prayer that he and his friends may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men: for all men, he says, have not faith. The unreasonable and wicked men were no doubt the Jews in Corinth, from which place he wrote. Their malignant opposition was the great obstacle to the spread of the gospel; they were the representatives and instruments of the Satan who perpetually hindered him. The word here rendered unreasonable is a rare one in the New Testament. It occurs four times in all, and in each case is differently translated: once it is "amiss," once "harm," once "wickedness," and here "unreasonable." The margin 364 in this place renders it "absurd." What it literally means is, "out of place"; and the Apostle signifies by it, that in the opposition of these men to the gospel there was something preposterous, something that baffled explanation; there was no reason in it, and therefore it was hopeless to reason with it. That is a disposition largely represented both in the Old Testament and the New, and familiar to every one who in preaching the gospel has come into close contact with men. It was one of the great trials of Jesus that He had to endure the contradiction of those who were sinners against themselves; who rejected the counsel of God in their own despite; in other words, were unreasonable men. The gospel, we must remember, is good news; it is good news to all men. It tells of God's love to the sinful; it brings pardon, holiness, immortal hope, to every one. Why, then, should anybody have a quarrel with it? Is it not enough to drive reason to despair, that men should wantonly, stubbornly, malignantly, hate and resist such a message? Is there anything in the world more provoking than to offer a real and indispensable service, out of a true and disinterested love, and to have it contemptuously rejected? That is the fate of the gospel in many quarters; that was the constant experience of our Lord and of St. Paul. No wonder, in the interests of his mission, the Apostle prays to be delivered from unreasonable men. Are 365 there any of us who come under this condemnation? who are senselessly opposed to the gospel, enemies in intention of God, but in reality hurting no one so much as ourselves? The Apostle does not indicate in his prayer any mode of deliverance. He may have hoped that in God's providence his persecutors would have their attention distracted somehow; he may have hoped that by greater wisdom, greater love, greater power of adaptation, of becoming all things to all men, he might vanquish their unreason, and gain access to their souls for the truth. In any case, his request shows us that the gospel has a battle to fight that we should hardly have anticipated—a battle with sheer perversity, with blind, wilful absurdity—and that this is one of its most dangerous foes. "O that they were wise," God cries of His ancient people, "O that they understood." He has the same lament to utter still.

We ought to notice the reason appended to this description of Paul's enemies: absurd and evil men, he says; for all men have not faith. Faith, of course, means the Christian faith: all men are not believers in Christ and disciples of Christ; and therefore the moral unreason and perversity of which I have spoken actually exist. He who has the faith is morally sane; he has that in him which is inconsistent with such wickedness and irrationality. We can hardly suppose, however, that the Apostle meant to state such a superfluous 366 truism as that all men were not Christians. What he does mean is apparently that not all men have affinity for the faith, have aptitude or liking for it; as Christ said when He stood before Pilate, the voice of truth is only heard by those who are of the truth. So it was when the apostles preached. Among their hearers there were those who were of the truth, in whom there was, as it were, the instinct for the faith; they welcomed the message. Others, again, discovered no such natural relation to the truth; in spite of the adaptation of the message to human needs, they had no sympathy with it; there was no reaction in their hearts in its favour; it was unreasonable to them; and to God they were unreasonable. The Apostle does not explain this; he simply remarks it. It is one of the ultimate and inexplicable facts of human experience; one of the meeting-points of nature and freedom which defy our philosophies. Some are of kin to the gospel when they hear it; they have faith, and justify the counsel of God, and are saved: others are of no kin to the gospel; its wisdom and love wake no response in them; they have not faith; they reject the counsel of God to their own ruin; they are preposterous and evil men. It is from such, as hinderers of the gospel, that Paul prays to be delivered.

In the two verses which follow, he plays, as it were, with this word "faith." All men have not faith, he 367 writes; but the Lord is faithful, and we have faith in the Lord touching you. Often the Apostle goes on thus at a word. Often, especially, he contrasts the trustworthiness of God with the faithlessness of men. Men may not take the gospel seriously; but the Lord does. He is in indubitable earnest with it; He may be depended upon to do His part in carrying it into effect. See how unselfishly, at this point, the Apostle turns from his own situation to that of his readers. The Lord is faithful who will stablish you, and keep you from the evil one. Paul had left the Thessalonians exposed to very much the same trouble as beset himself wherever he went; but he had left them to One who, he well knew, was able to keep them from falling, and to preserve them against all that the devil and his agents could do.

And side by side with this confidence in God stood his confidence touching the Thessalonians themselves. He was sure in the Lord that they were doing, and would continue to do, the things which he commanded them; in other words, that they would lead a worthy and becoming Christian life. The point of this sentence lies in the words "in the Lord." Apart from the Lord, Paul could have had no such confidence as he here expresses. The standard of the Christian life is lofty and severe; its purity, its unworldliness, its brotherly love; its burning hope, were new things then in the world. What assurance could there be that 368 this standard would be maintained, when the small congregation of working people in Thessalonica was cast upon its own resources in the midst of a pagan community? None at all, apart from Christ. If He had left them along with the Apostle, no one could have risked much upon their fidelity to the Christian calling. It marks the beginning of a new era when the Apostle writes, "We have confidence in the Lord touching you." Life has a new element now, a new atmosphere, new resources; and therefore we may cherish new hopes of it. When we think of them, the words include a gentle admonition to the Thessalonians, to beware of forgetting the Lord, and trusting to themselves; that is a disappointing path, which will put the Apostle's confidence toward them to shame. But it is an admonition as hopeful as it is gentle; reminding them that, though the path of Christian obedience cannot be trodden without constant effort, it is a path on which the Lord accompanies and upholds all who trust in Him. Here there is a lesson for us all to learn. Even those who are engaged in work for Christ are too apt to forget that the only hope of such work is the Lord. "Trust no man," says the wisest of commentators, "left to himself." Or to put the same thing more in accordance with the spirit of the text, there always is room for hope and confidence when the Lord is not forgotten. In the Lord, you may depend 369 upon those who in themselves are weak, unstable, wilful, foolish. In the Lord, you may depend on them to stand fast, to fight their temptations, to overcome the world and the wicked one. This kind of assurance, and the actual presence and help of Christ which justified it, are very characteristic of the New Testament. They explain the joyous, open, hopeful spirit of the early Church; they are the cause, as well as the effect, of that vigorous moral health which, in the decay of ancient civilisation, gave the Church the inheritance of the future. And still we may have confidence in the Lord that all whom He has called by His gospel will be able by His spiritual presence with them to walk worthy of that calling, and to confute alike the fears of the good and the contempt of the wicked. For the Lord is faithful, who will stablish them, and preserve them from the evil one.

Once more the Apostle bursts into prayer, as he remembers the situation of these few sheep in the wilderness: "The Lord direct your hearts into the love of God, and into the patience of Christ." Nothing could be a better commentary than one of Paul's own affectionate Epistles on that much discussed text, "Pray without ceasing." Look, for instance, through this one with which we are engaged. It begins with a prayer for grace and peace. This is followed by a thanksgiving in which God is acknowledged as the Author of all 370 their graces. The first chapter ends with a prayer—an unceasing prayer—that God would count them worthy of His calling. In the second chapter Paul renews his thanksgiving on behalf of his converts, and prays again that God may comfort their hearts and stablish them in every good work and word. And here, the moment he has touched upon a new topic, he returns, as it were by instinct, to prayer. "The Lord direct your hearts." Prayer is his very element; he lives, and moves, and has his being, in God. He can do nothing, he cannot conceive of anything being done, in which God is not as directly participant as himself, or those whom he wishes to bless. Such an intense appreciation of God's nearness and interest in life goes far beyond the attainments of most Christians; yet here, no doubt, lies a great part of the Apostle's power.

The prayer has two parts: he asks that the Lord may direct their hearts into the love of God, and into the patience of Christ. The love of God here means love to God; this is the sum of all Christian virtue, or at least the source of it. The gospel proclaims that God is love; it tells us that God has proved His love by sending His Son to die for our sins; it shows us Christ on the cross, in the passion of that love with which He loved us when He gave Himself for us; and it waits for the answer of love. It comprehended the 371 whole effect of the gospel, the whole mystery of its saving and re-creating power, when the Apostle exclaimed, "The love of Christ constraineth us." It is this experience which in the passage before us he desires for the Thessalonians. There is no one without love, or at least without the power of loving, in his heart. But what is the object of it? On what is it actually directed? The very words of the prayer imply that it is easily misdirected. But surely if love itself best merits and may best claim love, none should be the object of it before Him who is its source. God has earned our love; He desires our love; let us look to the Cross where He has given us the great pledge of His own, and yield to its sweet constraint. The old law is not abolished, but to be fulfilled: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind." If the Lord fix our souls to Himself by this irresistible attraction, nothing will be able to carry us away.

Love to God is naturally joyous; but life has other experiences than those which give free scope for its joyous exercise; and so the Apostle adds, "into the patience of Jesus Christ." The Authorised Version renders, "the patient waiting for Christ," as if what the Apostle prayed for were that they might continue steadfastly to hope for the Last Advent; but although 372 that idea is characteristic of these Epistles, it is hardly to be found in the words. Rather does he remind his readers that in the difficulties and sufferings of the path which lies before them, no strange thing is happening to them, nothing that has not already been borne by Christ in the spirit in which it ought to be borne by us. Our Saviour Himself had need of patience. He was made flesh, and all that the children of God have to suffer in this world has already been suffered by Him. This prayer is at once warning and consoling. It assures us that those who will live godly will have trials to bear: there will be untoward circumstances; feeble health; uncongenial relations; misunderstanding and malice; unreasonable and evil men; abundant calls for patience. But there will be no sense of having missed the way, or of being forgotten by God; on the contrary, there will be in Jesus Christ, ever present, a type and a fountain of patience, which will enable them to overcome all that is against them. The love of God and the patience of Christ may be called the active and the passive sides of Christian goodness,—its free, steady outgoing to Him who is the source of all blessing; and its deliberate, steady, hopeful endurance, in the spirit of Him who was made perfect through suffering. The Lord direct our hearts into both, that we may be perfect men in Christ Jesus.

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