The Thessalonians are given to understand, both how mindful of them St. Paul was, at all times, in thanksgiving and prayer, and also how well he was persuaded of the truth and sincerity of their faith and conversion to God.
Anno Domini 52.
THE Apostle's design in this Epistle being to furnish the Thessalonian brethren with proofs of the divine original of the gospel, both for establishing themselves, and for convincing unbelievers, he elegantly introduced his subject, by declaring that he gave thanks to God at all times or daily for their faith, and love, and perseverance of hope, knowing, he adds, their election of God, for the enjoyment of all the high privileges of the gospel, although they did not obey the law of Moses, Colossians 4:2-4.—Then, to make the Thessalonians sensible that their faith in the gospel was well founded, he put them in mind of the arguments by which they had been induced to receive the gospel as the word of God.
The first argument which he mentions is, that the gospel had been offered to the Thessalonians, not in word, or preaching only, but in preaching accompanied with great and evidentmiracles, performed in theirpresence; and with the gifts of the Holy Ghost, communicated to them after they believed. And these miracles and supernatural gifts, he affirms, had, through Divine grace, wrought in them much assurance, that is, the strongest persuasion of the truth of the gospel; in which persuasion they were confirmed, by the holy disinterested behaviour of the preachers of the gospel, Colossians 4:5.—But this being a branch of his second argument, the Apostle only mentions it here, referring the morefull consideration of it to chap. 2:—He adds, that the Thessalonians had shewed the strength of their faith by imitating the apostles and the Lord Jesus, in suffering much affliction for the gospel, with joy, Colossians 4:6.—so that they were patterns of faith and fortitude to all the brethren in the provinces of Macedonia and Achaia, Colossians 4:7.—Farther, he affirms, that from them the fame of the gospel had resounded, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place, their faith in one God only was spoken of as a thing very extraordinary, Colossians 4:8.—that their fellow-citizens, who had carried the news of their having changed their religion, into distant countries, had told, at the same time, in what manner the preachers of the new religion had entered and established themselves among the Thessalonians; that they had done it by great and evident miracles; and that the Thessalonians, struck with these miracles, had, through grace, turned from idols, and were become the worshippers of the living and true God, Colossians 4:9.—and looked for the return of his eternal Son from heaven, who, as the preachers of the gospel affirmed, had been raised from the dead, even Jesus, who would deliver them from the wrath which is to come on idolaters and unbelievers, at the day of judgment, Colossians 4:10.—Now, that the Thessalonians looked for the return of Jesus from heaven, and that his heavenly Father had raised him from the dead, and that they expected, at his return, to be delivered by him from the wrath to come on unbelievers, are all fitly mentioned in this place; because their expectation of these things shews what a strong impression the miracles wrought in confirmation of the gospel, had, through grace, made on the minds of the Thessalonians. Moreover, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, being a demonstration of his character as the Son of God, and of his power and authority as judge of the world, it is an undeniable proof of the divine original of the gospel, and renders the rejection of it infinitely dangerous.
Here then is the first argument, by which the gospel is proved to be a revelation from God. The apostles and evangelists wrought miracles, to shew that they were actually sent of God to publish those great discoveries, to which they have given the name of το ευαγγελιον, the gospel, or good news from God.—Now, on this argument I observe, that the efficacy of miracles to prove a divine commission, when wrought expressly for the purpose, is so plain, that little reasoning is needed to shew it. Persons of ordinary understandings, equally with those whose minds are more improved, will, if not determinately opposed to all the operations of divine love, reason as Nicodemus did, John 3:2. Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest except God be with him. Wherefore, this being a dictate of common sense, the Apostle had no occasion to shew, in the way of close argument, that a teacher who works miracles in confirmation of his doctrine, is commissioned of God. All he had to do, was to make it evident, that his own preaching at Thessalonica had been accompanied with undeniable miracles. To the Thessalonians, however, this was not necessary. They had been eye-witnesses of his miracles, and many, through the power of divine grace accompanying them, had been converted by them: and, after their conversion, they had received from the Apostle the gifts of the Holy Ghost; and, among the rest, the power of working miracles, andof speaking foreign languages: which power, such of them as possessed it, had no doubt often exercised. Nevertheless, to convince those who should live in after ages, that the first preaching of the gospel was accompanied with great and evident miracles, the Apostle has, in this epistle, taken the very best method that could be devised; a method which carries absolute conviction with it. St. Paul, and his fellow-labourers who were united with him in thisEpistle, spake plainly to the Thessalonians in this letter concerning the miracles whichthey wrought in their presence, and the spiritual gifts which they conferred upon them; and affirmed before them all, that these miracles and gifts, accompanied by the grace of God, produced in them the fullest assurance of the divine original of the gospel; and that the Thessalonians shewed the strength of their persuasion, by forsaking the established idolatry, and suffering, with joy, much affliction for the gospel. They farther affirmed, that the miracles which they wrought among them were so public, and so well known, that, when the unbelieving inhabitants of their city went with their merchandize to foreign countries, they not only reported that the Thessalonians had forsaken the worship of the gods, but that they had been persuaded to do so by the miracles which the preachers of the new religion had wrought in their presence, and by the extraordinaryfaculties which these preachers conferred on their disciples. Now who does not see that open appeals of this kind, made to the Thessalonians concerning the miracles which were wrought in their presence, and concerning the impression which these miracles, through grace, made on their minds, and the change produced in their religious sentiments through the influence of that impression, are undeniable proofs that miracles were really wrought at Thessalonica, and spiritual gifts conferred; and that, by the means of these miracles and gifts, the Thessalonians were turned from worshipping idols, to serve the living and true God. For three persons in their right senses, as Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy undoubtedly were, cannot be supposed to have made open appeals of this nature to such numerous societies asthe church of the Thessalonians, and the other churches in which this Epistle was to be read, where every individual must have known whether the matters affirmed were true or false, unless they had been conscious to themselves that they were all strictly true. As little can it be supposed that the Thessalonians and the rest would have received and perused, without the utmost disapprobation, the letter in which these things are affirmed, unless they had known them to be all strictly true. Wherefore, that great and evident miracles were wrought at Thessalonica; that spiritual gifts were conferred on those who believed; and that these miracles and spiritual gifts were means, through grace, of producing among the Thessalonians such a firm persuasion of the truth of the new religion, that many of them forsook their idol gods, embraced the gospel, and worshipped the one true God only; and that this change of religion brought upon them muchaffliction;—areallas certain as that the Thessalonians embraced the gospel, and that this Epistle was written by St. Paul, and sent to Thessalonica.
THESSALONIANS] Thessalonica was in St. Paul's time the capital of Macedonia; St. Paul had preached the gospel there in the year 51.Acts 17. Some few among the Jews received the gospel; but a great multitude of the devout Gentiles became converts to Christ. Hence the majority of the church consisted of native heathens, who had formerly been idolaters. The Jews, ever jealous of the admission of the Gentiles to the same privileges with themselves, raised such a disturbance, that St. Paul and Sylvanus were obliged suddenly to withdraw. They even pursued him to Berea: he left Sylvanus and Timothy there, and went to Athens, ordering them to follow him. Timothy did not long continue at Athens with St. Paul, but was sent back to Thessalonica; and when he returned, found St. Paul at Corinth, where he resided a year and a half; and in the former part of that time this Epistle was probably written; that is, about the year 52.
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1 Thessalonians 1:2. From this verse to the end of the third chapter we have the chief business of this Epistle; which was to comfort, strengthen, and establish the Christians at Thessalonica, and to persuade them to persevere under all the discouragements which he, their Apostle, or they themselves, might meet with. In his entrance upon this design, he gives vent to what lay most upon his heart, thanking God for their genuine conversion from idolatry to Christianity, amid so many discouraging circumstances, and begging of God that they might persevere; in which he takes all occasions of speaking well of the Thessalonians, as indeed he does in the general through all this Epistle.
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Your work of faith, &c.— Some translate it, Your faithful work, and loving labour, and patient hope. Others join the last clause with the first words of the verse, Without ceasing remembering in the sight, &c. but I prefer the sense which arises from the order of the words in the original; in the sight of God even our Father, who beholds them with pleasure.
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Knowing, brethren beloved, &c.— This Epistle being, as we have observed, directed principally to converted Gentiles, who were once idolaters, the design of these verses is very evident, if we reflect upon the great controversy of that time, concerning the admission of the Gentiles into the Christian church, without submitting to any part of the law of Moses: in which view the verses may be thus paraphrased: "as I have had a full and undoubted revelation immediately from the Lord Jesus Christ, of God's purpose to receive you, idolatrous Gentiles, into his visible church, and all true believers among you, as his people, under the Christian dispensation; I own you as dearly beloved brethren, and have with pleasure seen this purpose of God take effect; in that our gospel, when it first appeared among you, was not an empty sound, but was attended with the plainness and energy of truth; and had also the attestation of miracles, as well as plenty of spiritual gifts."
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So that ye were ensamples— Τυπους, types; that is, plans, models, of patterns; and, by a metaphor, it is used for an example, or moral pattern. Philippi and Berea were in Macedonia; Athens and Corinth were in Achaia. The Apostle mentions these parts, as he had just been travelling through them, before he came to Corinth.
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For from you sounded out the word— It was accounted a great honour for any church, or city, to have the gospel go out from thence. Grotius observes, that many of the Thessalonians were merchants, who travelled through all Greece; and therefore so strange and blessed a piece of news might easily spread through Macedonia and Achaia, as one was so nigh them, and the other had such commerce with them.
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For they themselves shew of us— "For even our enemies, as well as the Christians, can tell, and do speak of it, not without wonder and astonishment, what uncommon gifts we ourselves had, and communicated unto you, and what a hearty reception we met with on our first arrival."
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Which delivered us— Who delivered us. Doddridge.
Inferences.—What an infinite mercy it is, when the gospel comes to any of our souls, not in words only, but with the impressive power of the Holy Ghost! This is an evident proof of the favour of God, and of our interest in Christ, which can only be known by its fruits; such as the witness of the Spirit of God, faith, love, and patience under sufferings for Christ's sake; a thorough conversion in heart and life from every idol to the living and true God; a holy imitation of Christ, and of his servants, as far as they follow him; and a hopeful expectation of his glorious coming to deliver us from all our troubles. And how desirable is it to have tokens of God's love, and of the power of his grace, in an eminent degree! Such receive his word with full assurance of its divine truth, excellence, and importance, and, with joy in the Holy Ghost, not withstanding all the tribulations which may befal them for its sake; they are a credit to the gospel, and noble examples to other believers; and are spoken of with admiration and joy to all that hear of them, and love the truth as it is in Jesus. With what pleasure do his ministering servants own one another, and reflect on every remarkable success of their labours, and on a testimony in the consciences of their hearers, that the power of the Spirit is with them! They affectionately salute the dear converts; they abound in thankfulness for them, and continually recommend them in their prayers to the grace and blessing of God the Father, and of our Lord Jesus Christ, in every remembrance of them.
And, O how animating to every true believer is the thought of the eternal Son of God, as the risen Jesus, who, having saved them from their sins, will deliver them, if faithful unto death, from the wrath to come.
REFLECTIONS.—1st, The Apostle begins with his usual address, joining two of his brethren with himself. Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians, which is in God the Father, and in the Lord Jesus Christ, called to the worship of the true God, in and through Christ Jesus, and united to him by faith, as living members of his body: grace be unto you, and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ; may all the blessings of the gospel covenant be your portion, partaking of the boundless grace of God, and enjoying that sweetest peace of conscience which results from a sense of his pardoning and sanctifying love!
2nd, With thanksgiving and prayer the Apostle, on their behalf, approached a throne of grace. We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers:
1. Remembering, without ceasing, (1.) your work of faith, which is proved to be unfeigned, by the blessed effects it has produced on your hearts and lives: And, (2.) Your labour of love, love to Jesus and one another engaging you to every good word and work, and making you willing to submit to any hardships for his glory and the advantage of your brethren: And also, (3.) your patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, even that lively hope which faith in him inspires, and which strengthens you with patient courage to endure under every cross, in the sight of God and our Father, to whom we can appeal for our constant and thankful remembrance of you, and trust that you approve yourselves to him in all fidelity: knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God, that you have been called from Gentilism to be partakers of all the blessings and privileges of the gospel, to be the children of God, and heirs of the eternal inheritance, which he will certainly bestow upon you, if faithful unto death.
2. He thanks God for the success of his preaching among them. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, to your ears, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, who bore his attestation to the truth by miracles, accompanied it with divine evidence to the conscience, and caused it to enter into your penitent and believing hearts, in much assurance of your interest in the promised blessings; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake, with what patience and perseverance, in the midst of much persecution, we delivered our message, zealous for your souls; and how God was pleased graciously to own our labours. Note; Nothing fills a faithful minister's heart with deeper gratitude than the beholding the success of his labours.
3rdly, The Apostle describes the happy effects which the gospel had produced among them.
1. Ye became followers of us in faith, patience, and sufferings, and of the Lord Jesus, the perfect pattern which we desire to imitate; having received the word in much affliction: far from being stumbled at the persecution which was raised against us, or being discouraged, ye were filled with joy of the Holy Ghost; and, as your tribulations abounded, your consolation by Jesus Christ abounded also.
2. You were eminently distinguished by your conduct on that occasion, so that ye were ensamples of courage, constancy, and zeal, to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia; for from you sounded out the word of the Lord, the fame of your faith and the remarkable success of the gospel among you went forth; not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place, your faith to Godward is spread abroad, and much spoken of, so that we need not to speak any thing in your commendation: for they themselves, among whom this good report of you is spread, shew of us, what manner of entering in we had unto you; and need not our information, having been already made acquainted with all the circumstances; and how ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God, who alone hath life in himself, and is the author thereof to all his creatures, and besides whom there is no God; and to wait for his Son from heaven, in faith and hope, whom he raised from the dead for our justification, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come; and but for him we must all have perished eternally. Note; (1.) Good examples are mightily influential. (2.) Wherever the true grace of God comes, it will turn the heart from all its sinful pursuits, and from idols, to cleave to him in faith and love alone. (3.) We owe it to the Son of God that we are rescued from everlasting burnings. Had he not interposed on our behalf, our estate had been as desperate as that of the devils themselves. (4.) They who are partakers of the gospel salvation constantly keep in mind the second coming of the Lord, waiting with desire his appearing, and making it their labour and prayer to be ready to meet him in the clouds.