The Apostle opens his Epistle with his usual Benediction, He desires to bless God for the Prosperity of the Church at Thessalonica. He comforts the People under all their Trials, with the assured Prospect of Christ's coming.
(1) В¶ Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: (2) Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is really delightful to observe how uniformly the Apostle keeps in view the grace of God, when writing to the Churches. And as God's grace, in the everlasting love of his purpose, counsel, will, and pleasure, is the source and spring of all the blessings which follow in the Church of peace, and mercy in redemption, with all their blissful consequences, we may well account for the Apostle's beginning all he had to offer the Church in this manner.
I would beg the Reader to pause over it a moment, and consider some few of the wonderful properties of grace. The first, and best, and highest sense of it, as it relates to Jehovah's exercise of it towards the Church from all eternity, is, in itself, one of the most blessed subjects which can call up the exercise of our awakened faculties, either in time, or in eternity. Grace, in its original source and spring, hath no one motive but as it arose in the divine mind. No predisposing cause, but God's pleasure. Neither worthiness, nor unworthiness, in the persons on whom he causeth his grace to shine, being in the least concerned. It would cease to be grace, if the Lord had been moved to exercise it from the foreview of merit, in any of those on whom he bestowed it, or if he withheld it from the knowledge of undeservings among any of his creatures. Paul elsewhere defines grace with this divine property. If by grace, (saith he), then is it no more works: otherwise grace is no more grace. Romans 11:1. Reader! do not overlook this scriptural account of grace, from the exercise of which all our mercies flow. Redemption by Christ, regeneration by the Holy Ghost, justification before God in Christ without works; yea against all undeservings, sanctification in Christ, the forming the spirit anew in Christ Jesus, together with all those gracious dispositions formed in the new nature by the Holy Ghost, all, all flow as so many streams from this one fountain. And the whole sum and substance of the Bible, in the ultimate design of Jehovah going forth in acts of creation, redemption, providence, grace, and everlasting happiness to the Church, is to this one point, and no other; to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved. Ephesians 1:6.
(3) We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of everyone of you all toward each other aboundeth; (4) So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure: (5) В¶ Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer: (6) Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;
We have several very beautiful and blessed consequences arising out of these verses, which the Reader will do well to notice one by one. First. Observe how blessedly Paul ascends to the fountain head, in ascribing all glory to the great Head of the Church, for their prosperity. He takes no notice of men or things, ordinances or ministers; these in Paul's view were secondary and subordinate. Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? 1 Corinthians 3:5. How delightful is it to refer all the glory where alone it is due, and to bless God, as it is meet, when faith towards God, and charity towards men, grow under the Lord's favor!
Secondly. Let the Reader observe the growth of faith and brotherly love, as twin graces coming from the Lord. They grow and increase under divine cultivation, and they are very blessed evidences of God's elect children. Paul elsewhere distinguisheth it from the mere professional belief, so common among the carnal world, by calling it, the faith of God's elect, and the acknowledging of the truth, which is after godliness. Titus 1:1. Let the Reader, therefore, carefully mark the vast difference. When a child of God is new born, and that immense work of God the Spirit by regeneration, is wrought in quickening the sinner, which was before dead in trespasses and sins, the spiritual life is given, which can die no more. Being made a partaker of the divine nature, this principle is as holy as it ever can be. But, like a new-born child in nature, so the child in grace groweth and increaseth with all the increase of God. Col 2:19; 2 Peter 3:18. And let the Reader remark yet further, that these graces of faith and charity, with all others that are thereby induced from the spiritual life, given by the Holy Ghost to the child of God, are the fruits and effects resulting from the love of the Holy Three in One, in their covenant-offices and characters. Faith and love, however exceedingly they grow and abound, form no cause in the great work of salvation. Christ's Person, in his blood and righteousness, is the sole cause. Our faith in him, and love to all saints, are effects.
Thirdly. When the Apostle saith, that he, and his faithful companion in the ministry, gloried in the Churches of God, let the Reader recollect, that no more can be meant, but that of holy joy, that the Lord blessed them with his grace. It was a constant maxim of Paul, that no man should glory in men. 1 Corinthians 3:21. And, therefore, he did not tell the Church, in this place, that their good deeds, or their zeal, no, nor their faith and charity, as their acts, were subjects of his glory. He only meant to say, that the Lord's blessing upon them, opened a source of giving glory to God, and he rejoiced in their progress in grace.
Fourthly. I beg the Reader to remark with me, how Paul interprets, the Lord's blessing upon his Church, a sure token of the Lord's displeasure to their enemies. And I beg the Reader to remark it the rather, because the same holds good in all ages of the Church. Depend upon it, in whatever congregation of the Lord's faithful people, the Lord's cause prospers, while the Lord manifests his favor thereby to them; this becomes his frown upon those who oppose them. David was so convinced of this, that he made it a subject of prayer, that by the Lord's countenancing him, his enemies might behold it, and hang their heads. Shew me (said he) a token for good: that they which hate me, may see it, and be ashamed: because thou, Lord, hath holpen me, and comforted me. Psalms 86:17. Reader! do bring this decision, (for it is the Lord's own decision, and upon scriptural grounds), into practice, for forming righteous judgment in the present awful day. While the great and glorious truths of the Gospel are frittering away through the land, and flimsy subjects supply the place of preaching God's electing love, Christ's redeeming grace, and the Spirit's regenerating mercy; while places which our forefathers, of blessed memory, occupied, and where those precious truths, whereon was founded all the hope, and joy, and comfort of their truly regenerated souls, once were continually heard, now resound with daring denials of Christ's finished salvation, and the final perseverance of thy saints; look and see where God owns and blesseth his word, and where congregations are, among whom conversion work, and confirming work are going on. This will be the way to discover, what the Apostle here calls, the manifest token of the righteous judgment of God. The Lord hath engaged to honor them who honor him. 1 Samuel 2:30. And we may reasonably expect to behold God's electing love manifested in the assemblies where God's electing love is faithfully preached, and Christ's redeeming mercy felt and enjoyed, where redemption by his blood is insisted on as the sole cause of salvation. And God the Spirit doth, and will, awaken sinners, dead in trespasses and sins, where he sends his faithful servants to preach to the congregation, as the Prophet sent by him did to the dry bones in the valley, whose whole movement, breath, and life, can only come from his sovereign power. Ezekiel 37:4-5. This will be the way to decide where righteous judgment is formed, not from conclusions drawn from numbers, but from conclusions drawn from the real work of God upon the heart. Oh! the high favor the God of all grace manifesteth to that real congregation of Zion, called by what name soever it may be among men, whom the Lord shall count when he writeth up the people, that this and that man was born there. Psalms 87:5-6.
(7) And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, (8) In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: (9) Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power; (10) When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
There is somewhat very interesting and affectionate in what is said in the opening of this paragraph. To such troubles as are sharp and severe, arising from persecution, and under which the spirit faints; there is nothing can bring relief equal to the prospect of the great day of God. Paul, therefore, bids the Church to rest with him and his exercised companions in this blessed hope. I know not which to contemplate most, in respect to the awful solemnity with which the Apostle hath here represented the coming of Christ, whether the destruction of his foes, or the salvation of his people. The imagination can form nothing to itself, which can either give an idea of the alarming nature of the one, or the unspeakable joy of the other. But the admiration of Christ's Person, is said to form the whole of the felicity of his saints. And, most certainly, the union of God and man in one Person, must of itself become such an object of glory, as cannot fail to arrest, and to fix the whole attention of every beholder. But who shall describe it? Who shall form conception of the divine features of Him, in whom dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily?
(11) В¶ Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power: (12) That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
I pray the Reader to observe how sweetly Paul closeth the Chapter, as he had began, with prayer. What can be more proper for ministers, than to open and close all their ministerial services in the same manner. By the Lord's counting the people worthy of this calling, cannot be supposed to mean any worthiness in them, for he had before ascribed all to the grace of God. But the counting worthy of this calling, means the Lord's counting them one with Jesus; so that now, when the Church comes to be glorified in Jesus, the blessed testimonies of all that is past may appear in their first call by grace, and their being justified, adopted, sanctified, and the whole events they had past through, from grace to glory, might show their union and oneness with Christ from everlasting; so, that as all along their lives had been hid with Christ in God; now, when Christ, who is their life, appears, they appear with him in glory. Colossians 3:3-4.
READER! it were well, if truly regenerated souls would frequently, and with a suitable solemnity of holy joy, contemplate the great day of Christ's coming, which the Apostle here proposeth to the Church, as the sure support to all the exercises and trials of life. For what damps the highest prosperity of sinners, becomes the richest encouragement to comfort, under all the pressure of evil, to the saints. And, if the people of God would learn, under grace, to connect with their prospect of Christ's coming, their union and interest in that glory in which he comes, what a joy unspeakable and full of glory would this bring with it to their souls. And, as the human nature of Christ united to his divine, gives a right and interest in all that is divine, and the glory of the Godhead is communicated to the human nature, and dwells in it; so our union with Christ gives a right and interest in all that belongs to Christ, as Christ, for communication in all that is communicable, and we derive out of his fullness, grace here, and glory hereafter. This was the very end for which the Church was predestinated, that we might be conformed to his image. May the Lord, give to all his redeemed ones, grace, so to contemplate Christ, and so to wait for his coming, that his precious name may be glorified in his people, and they in him, according to the grace of God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.