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391

VIII.

FAREWELL.

"Now the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in all ways. The Lord be with you all.

"The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all."—2 Thess. iii. 16-18 (R.V.).

THE first verse of this short passage is taken by some as in close connection with what goes before. In the exercise of Christian discipline, such as it has been described by the Apostle, there may be occasions of friction or even of conflict in the Church; it is this which he would obviate by the prayer, "The Lord of peace Himself give you peace always." The contrast is somewhat forced and disproportioned; and it is certainly better to take this prayer, standing as it does at the close of the letter, in the very widest sense. Not merely freedom from strife, but peace in its largest Christian meaning, is the burden of his petition.

The Lord of peace Himself is Christ. He is the Author and Originator of all that goes by that name in the Christian communion. The word "peace" was not, indeed, a new one; but it had been baptized into Christ, like many another, and become a new creation. Newman said that when he passed out of the Church of England into the Church of Rome, all the Christian 392 ideas, were so to speak, magnified; everything appeared on a vaster scale. This is a very good description, at all events, of what one sees on passing from natural morality to the New Testament, from writers so great even as Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius to the Apostles. All the moral and spiritual ideas are magnified—sin, holiness, peace, repentance, love, hope, God, man, attain to new dimensions. Peace, in particular, was freighted to a Christian with a weight of meaning which no pagan could conceive. It brought to mind what Christ had done for man, He who had made peace by the blood of His Cross; it gave that assurance of God's love, that consciousness of reconciliation, which alone goes to the bottom of the soul's unrest. It brought to mind also what Christ had been. It recalled that life which had faced all man's experience, and had borne through all a heart untroubled by doubts of God's goodness. It recalled that solemn bequest: "Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you." In every sense and in every way it was connected with Christ; it could neither be conceived nor possessed apart from Him; He was Himself the Lord of the Christian peace.

The Apostle shows his sense of the comprehensiveness of this blessing by the adjuncts of his prayer. He asks the Lord to give it to the Thessalonians uninterruptedly and in all the modes of its manifestation. 393 Peace may be lost. There may be times at which the consciousness of reconciliation passes away, and the heart cannot assure itself before God; these are the times in which we have somehow lost Christ, and only through Him can we have our peace with God restored. "Uninterruptedly" we must count upon Him for this first and fundamental blessing; He is the Lord of Reconciling Love, whose blood cleanses from all sin, and makes peace between earth and Heaven for ever. Or there may be times at which the troubles and vexations of life become too trying for us; and instead of peace within, we are full of care and fear. What resource have we then but in Christ, and in the love of God revealed to us in Him? His life is at once a pattern and an inspiration; His great sacrifice is the assurance that the love of God to man is immeasurable, and that all things work together for good to them that love Him. When the Apostle prayed this prayer, he no doubt thought of the life which lay before the Thessalonians. He remembered the persecutions they had already undergone at the hands of the Jews; the similar troubles that awaited them; the grief of those who were mourning for their dead; the deeper pain of those on whose hearts rushed suddenly, from time to time, the memory of days and years wasted in sin; the moral perplexities that were already rising among them,—he remembered all these things, 394 and because of them he prayed, "The Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times in every way." For there are many ways in which peace may be possessed; as many ways as there are disquieting situations in man's life. It may come as penitent trust in God's mercy; it may come as composure in times of excitement and danger; as meekness and patience under suffering; as hope when the world would despair; it may come as unselfishness, and the power to think of others, because we know God is taking thought for us,—as "a heart at leisure from itself, to soothe and sympathise." All these are peace. Such peace as this—so deep and so comprehensive, so reassuring and so emancipating—is the gift of Christ alone. He can give it without interruption; He can give it with virtues as manifold as the trials of the life without or the life within.

Here, properly speaking, the letter ends. The Apostle has communicated his mind to the Thessalonians as fully as their situation required; and might end, as he did in the First Epistle, with his benediction. But he remembers the unpleasant incident, mentioned in the beginning of ch. ii., of a letter purporting to be from him, though not really his; and he takes care to prevent such a mistake for the future. This Epistle, like almost all the rest, had been written by some one to the Apostle's dictation; but as a guarantee of 395 genuineness, he closes it with a line or two in his own hand. "The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every epistle: so I write." What does "so I write" mean? Apparently, "You see the character of my writing; it is a hand quite recognisable as mine; a few lines in this hand will authenticate every letter that comes from me."

Perhaps "every letter" only means every one which he would afterwards write to Thessalonica; certainly attention is not called in all the Epistles to this autographic close. It is found in only two others—1st Corinthians (xvi. 21) and Colossians (iv. 18)—exactly as it stands here, "The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand"; in others it may have been thought unnecessary, either because, like Galatians, they were written throughout in his own hand; or, like 2nd Corinthians and Philemon, were conveyed by persons equally known and trusted by the Apostle and the recipients. The great Epistle to the Romans, to judge from its various conclusions, seems to have been from the very beginning a sort of circular letter; and the personal character, made prominent by the autograph signature, was less in place then. The same remark applies to the Epistle to the Ephesians. As for the pastoral Epistles, to Timothy and Titus, they may have been autographic throughout; in any case, neither Timothy nor Titus was likely to be imposed upon by a letter 396 falsely claiming to be Paul's. They knew their master too well.

If it was possible to make a mistake in the Apostle's lifetime, and to take as his an Epistle which he never wrote, is it impossible to be similarly imposed upon now? Have we reasonable grounds for believing that the thirteen Epistles in the New Testament, which bear his name upon their front, really came from his hand? That is a question which in the last hundred years, and especially in the last fifty, has been examined with the amplest learning and the most minute and searching care. Nothing that could possibly be alleged against the authenticity of any of these Epistles, however destitute of plausibility, has been kept back. The references to them in early Christian writers, their reception in the early Church, the character of their contents, their style, their vocabulary, their temper, their mutual relations, have been the subject of the most thorough investigation. Nothing has ever been more carefully tested than the historical judgment of the Church in receiving them; and though it would be far from true to say that there were no difficulties, or no divergence of opinion, it is the simple truth that the consent of historical critics in the great ecclesiastical tradition becomes more simple and decided. The Church did not act at random in forming the apostolic canon. It exercised a sound mind in embodying in 397 the New Testament of our Lord and Saviour the books which it did embody, and no other. Speaking of Paul in particular, one ought to say that the only writings ascribed to him, in regard to which there is any body of doubtful opinion, are the Epistles to Timothy and Titus. Many seem to feel, in regard to these, that they are on a lower key than the undoubtedly Pauline letters; there is less spirit in them, less of the native originality of the gospel, a nearer approach to moral commonplace; they are not unlike a half-way house between the apostolic and the post-apostolic age. These are very dubious grounds to go upon; they will impress different minds very differently; and when we come to look at the outward evidence for these letters, they are almost better attested, in early Christian writers, than anything else in the New Testament. Their semi-legal character, and the positive rules with which they abound, inferior as they make them in intellectual and spiritual interest to high works of inspiration like Romans and Colossians, seem to have enabled simple Christian people to get hold of them, and to work them out in their congregations and their homes. All that Paul wrote need not have been on one level; and it is almost impossible to understand the authority which these Epistles immediately and universally obtained, if they were not what they claimed to be. Only a 398 very accomplished scholar could appreciate the historical arguments for and against them; yet I do not think it is unfair to say that even here the traditional opinion is in the way, not of being reversed, but of being confirmed.

The very existence of such questions, however, warns us against mistaken estimates of Scripture. People sometimes say, if there be one point uncertain, our Bible is gone. Well, there are points uncertain; there are points, too, in regard to which an ordinary Christian can only have a kind of second-hand assurance; and this of the genuineness of the pastoral Epistles is one. There is no doubt a very good case to be made out for them by a scholar; but not a case which makes doubt impossible. Yet our Bible is not taken away. The uncertainty touches, at most, the merest fringe of apostolic teaching; nothing that Paul thought of any consequence, or that is of any consequence to us, but is abundantly unfolded in documents which are beyond the reach of doubt. It is not the letter, even of the New Testament, which quickens, but the Spirit; and the Spirit exerts its power through these Christian documents as a whole, as it does through no other documents in the world. When we are perplexed as to whether an apostle wrote this or that, let us consider that the most important books in the Bible—the Gospels and the 399 Psalms—do not name their authors at all. What in the Old Testament can compare with the Psalter? Yet these sweet songs are practically anonymous. What can be more certain than that the Gospels bring us into contact with a real character—the Son of Man, the Saviour of sinners? Yet we know their authors only through a tradition, a tradition indeed of weight and unanimity that can hardly be over-estimated; but simply a tradition, and not an inward mark such as Paul here sets on his letter for the Thessalonians. "The Church's one Foundation is Jesus Christ her Lord;" as long as we are actually brought into connection with Him through Scripture, we must be content to put up with the minor uncertainties which are inseparable from a religion which has had a birth and a history.

But to return to the text. The Epistle closes, as the Apostle's custom is, with a benediction: "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." Grace is pre-eminently a Pauline word; it is found alike in the salutations with which Paul addresses his churches, and in the benedictions with which he bids them farewell; it is the beginning and the end of his gospel; the element in which Christians live, and move, and have their being. He excludes no one from his blessing; not even those who had been walking disorderly, and setting at nought the tradition they had received from 400 him; their need is the greatest of all. If we had imagination enough to bring vividly before us the condition of one of these early churches, we would see how much is involved in a blessing like this, and what sublime confidence it displays in the goodness and faithfulness of our Lord. The Thessalonians, a few months ago, had been heathens; they had known nothing of God and His Son; they were living still in the midst of a heathen population, under the pressure of heathen influences both on thought and conduct, beset by numberless temptations; and if they were mindful of the country from which they had come forth, not without opportunity to return. Paul would willingly have stayed with them to be their pastor and teacher, their guide and their defender, but his missionary calling made this impossible. After the merest introduction to the gospel, and to the new life to which it calls those who receive it, they had to be left to themselves. Who should keep them from falling? Who should open their eyes to understand the ideal which the Christian is summoned to work out in his life? Amid their many enemies, where could they look for a sufficient and ever-present ally? The Apostle answers these questions when he writes, "The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all." Although he has left them, they are not really alone. The free love of God, which visited them at first uncalled, will be with them 401 still, to perfect the work it has begun. It will beset them behind and before; it will be a sun and a shield to them, a light and a defence. In all their temptations, in all their sufferings, in all their moral perplexities, in all their despondencies, it will be sufficient for them. There is not any kind of succour which a Christian needs which is not to be found in the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Here, then, we bring to a close our study of the two earliest Epistles of St. Paul. They have given us a picture of the primitive apostolic preaching, and of the primitive Christian Church. That preaching embodied revelations, and it was the acceptance of these revelations that created the new society. The Apostle and his fellow-evangelists came to Thessalonica telling of Jesus, who had died and risen again, and who was about to return to judge the living and the dead. They told of the impending wrath of God, that wrath which was revealed already against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, and was to be revealed in all its terrors when the Lord came. They preached Jesus as the Deliverer from the coming wrath, and gathered, through faith in Him, a Church living in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ. To an uninterested spectator, the work of Paul and his companions would have seemed a very little thing; he would not have discovered its originality and promise; 402 he would hardly have counted upon its permanence. In reality, it was the greatest and most original thing ever seen in the world. That handful of men and women in Thessalonica was a new phenomenon in history; life had attained to new dimensions in them; it had heights and depths in it, a glory and a gloom, of which the world had never dreamed before; all moral ideas were magnified, as it were, a thousandfold; an intensity of moral life was called into being, an ardent passion for goodness, a spiritual fear and hope, which made them capable of all things. The immediate effects, indeed, were not unmixed; in some minds not only was the centre of gravity shifted, but the balance utterly upset; the future and unseen became so real to them, or were asserted to be so real, that the present and its duties were totally neglected. But with all misapprehensions and moral disorders, there was a new experience; a change so complete and profound that it can only be described as a new creation. Possessed by Christian faith, the soul discovered new powers and capacities; it could combine "much affliction" with "joy of the Holy Ghost"; it could believe in inexorable judgment and in infinite mercy; it could see into the depths of death and life; it could endure suffering for Christ's sake with brave patience; it had been lost, but had found itself again. The life that had once been low, 403 dull, vile, hopeless, uninteresting, became lofty, vast, intense. Old things had passed away; behold, all things had become new.

The Church is much older now than when this Epistle was written; time has taught her many things; Christian men have learned to compose their minds and to curb their imaginations; we do not lose our heads nowadays, and neglect our common duties, in dreaming on the world to come. Let us say that this is gain; and can we say further that we have lost nothing which goes some way to counterbalance it? Are the new things of the gospel as real to us, and as commanding in their originality, as they were at the first? Do the revelations which are the sum and substance of the gospel message, the warp and woof of apostolic preaching, bulk in our minds as they bulk in this letter? Do they enlarge our thoughts, widen our spiritual horizon, lift to their own high level, and expand to their own scale, our ideas about God and man, life and death, sin and holiness, things visible and invisible? Are we deeply impressed by the coming wrath and by the glory of Christ? Have we entered into the liberty of those whom the revelation of the world to come enabled to emancipate themselves from this? These are the questions that rise in our minds as we try to reproduce the experience of an early Christian church. In those days, everything was of 404 inspiration; now, so much is of routine. The words that thrilled the soul then have become trite and inexpressive; the ideas that gave new life to thought appear worn and commonplace. But that is only because we dwell on the surface of them, and keep their real import at a distance from the mind. Let us accept the apostolic message in all its simplicity and compass; let us believe, and not merely say or imagine we believe, that there is a life beyond death, revealed in the Resurrection, a judgment to come, a wrath of God, a heavenly glory; let us believe in the infinite significance, and in the infinite difference, of right and wrong, of holiness and sin; let us realise the love of Christ, who died for our sins, who calls us to fellowship with God, who is our Deliverer from the coming wrath; let these truths fill, inspire, and dominate our minds, and for us, too, faith in Christ will be a passing from death unto life.

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