Nothing can be more solemn than the way the epithet "Christian" has been abused for well-nigh eighteen centuries. It has been adopted by many who have no sense of the responsibilities attaching to it before God, and much less possessed of the qualifications necessary for the remotest attempt at a fulfilment of them. It is unquestioned there may be an outward conforming to "the faith of God's elect" as a system, without the living connection with God, which bows one before Him as supreme, holy, interested in His creatures, and revealed in entreating tenderness of grace; without, in short, "faith in Christ Jesus," by which one becomes a child of God, and appropriates, in obedience to His command and invitation, the blessings which His elect shall eternally share. There are dispensational marks which the ostensible body of professors bear, separating it from the rest of mankind; but there are certain determinative points also, which distinguish the true from the false in that ostensible body, and as these connect the soul with God in an essential and vital way, cognizable only to faith, it is sustaining to dwell upon them. One will be found in each of the five chapters of 1 Thessalonians; thus: Election, 1:4; Calling, 2:12; Appointed place on earth, 3:3; True character, 4:7; Hope, 5:9.
It is impossible to over-estimate the blessedness and importance of the first point, that there is an election from among Jews and Gentiles, according to "the eternal purpose of God." The frequency of reference to it by the apostles throughout the epistles bespeaks this importance, not only as implying the sovereignty and absolute grace of God, but for sustenance to the soul, which realizes it in a scene where the need of such sustenance is every day felt. There are those who reject or slight it in the first aspect, except as a general fact, supposing it incompatible with man's responsibility; and others again who, while professing it in the first aspect, are at one with the former in abolishing its utility in the second, maintaining that it is presumptuous to be quite sure of being one of the number. 2 Tim. 1:9, and 2 John 1, however, distinctly prove that both purpose and election concern individuals, and 2 Peter 1:10 that God's intention is we should be sure of our calling and election."
A line of Scripture speaks volumes for the simple and submissive. The very strength and marrow of the gospel of Christ is that I (if one may speak for all the people of God in what is a matter, not of experience but of faith) may know I was chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world; that I was even then an object of the Father's concern and His; as certainly as that, being His, I was given to His Son out of the world, amongst "the many" whose individual sins were borne and put away at Calvary, in view of the day when we should be brought to God, graced in all the acceptability of His finished work, by which moreover He glorified God. All is secured and made known to us for our present enjoyment, as a fruit of His atoning sufferings. Blessed be His precious name!
Here then is a basis for divinely-given and divinely-exercised affections, which become duly manifest in "work of faith, labour of love, and patience of hope," as was the case with the Thessalonians. It is perfectly beautiful to witness the array of evidence brought forward in chapter 1, upon the strength of which the apostle could be so confident as to the election of those to whom he addressed his epistle. They had received the gospel, turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and followed this up with praise-worthy consistency; looking also for God's Son from heaven with all the earnestness and reality implied in the term "to wait." We might profitably dwell upon this; but must pass on to the second point.
God "hath called us unto His kingdom and glory." Election, choosing, has in view "the pit whence we were digged;" our calling sets before us our destiny Of us, as of Israel of old, it is true that "He brought us out ... that He might bring us in." (Deut. 6:23.) One precious truth is thus the complement of the other.
The glory to which we are called alone gives us the true measure of our responsibility. Never in looking backward can we realize this. There may be a very loud profession of regrets in contemplating present attainment in view of the past; but beneath all that profession lurk feelings of complacency because of some attainment, unless the present is estimated in view, not of the past, but of the future - the flesh being ever ready to take credit for the moral improvement which unquestionably ought to be found daily in the Christian. There is literally no room for complacency; for we are enjoined to walk worthy of the vocation wherewith we are called (Eph. 4. Compare Phil. 3:13, 14), and are expected "so to walk, even as Christ walked." (1 John 2:6.) It is under a solemn sense of what our responsibility is now that we become sufficiently abased and, so to speak, passive in His hands, who works in us "both to will and to do of [His] good pleasure." Here it is we prove, "When I am weak, then am I strong." "Of God are we in Christ Jesus," and thus belong to glory. It becomes us therefore to walk worthy of Him who has called us unto it.
While awaiting in the patience of hope that glory, "we are appointed unto" afflictions here. Our God arranges circumstances by which a clean cut is maintained between His people and the world. May we ever bow to His wisdom, and accept with joy the dispositions of His loving care. He is apart from all evil, and would have His people to be so. Hence, He may use oppression from without, which almost urges souls to apostasy, as in Heb. 12, to make us "partakers of His holiness;" but would sustain the heart meanwhile by leading it to "consider Him who endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself." Indeed, the heart is expected to lead into separation from the world, "forth unto Christ without the camp, bearing" what God speaks of as "His reproach." The sheep, hearing the Shepherd's voice, follow him out of a mere fold. But there is another side to this matter, one which indicates how divinely-balanced are our God and Father's dealings with His children; for we see in John 9 that the confessor of Christ is "cast out" - excommunicated.
But outward separation is not all. The light unto our feet is the word - "the sword of the Spirit," piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, etc. Every thought is discerned, everyone reached - Mary's "own soul." (Luke 2:35.) God, who is light, must have reality, and the holiness which "becometh thy house, O Lord, for ever." Hence, saints of the Lord's own gathering, beneath the searching light of His presence - none more so - "called to holiness," need to and will be admonished as to "uncleanness" and "fornication." In Isaiah 6, where the prophet was consciously in the presence of the thrice-holy Lord, what corresponds to the two elements of holiness come out in his confession: "I am a man of unclean lips; then also, "I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips." He did not ignore the character of his associations, could not, being so near the Lord (as many of His people do now; must we not conclude, for the contrary reason?); but he was fully sensible also of being certainly; if not primarily, responsible for his own individual state. "Every man ought to know how to possess, his vessel unto sanctification and honour." Oppression from without by no means precludes danger from within; and when it calls into activity mutual sympathies, which draw saints together, there is also danger of ignoring individual title to personal belongings, which both the apostles Peter and Paul were careful to maintain. (Acts 5:4; 2 Cor. 8:17, etc.)
Then, lastly, "God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus." There is an immense difference between being appointed to afflictions and being appointed to wrath. The former is our lot, as we have seen; but, thank God, not the latter. Wrath would be the portion of those who helped on the afflictions of God's poor people, as we see by the next chapter; but already wrath was upon those who believed not the Son (John 3:36), and opposed His gospel. (1 Thess. 2:15, 16.) It will be experienced by-and-by in inexpressible bitterness by "them that dwell upon the earth" (Rev. 3:10, 16), by Israel in particular (Psalm 89:38-46; 90:5-14) during "the day of Jacob's trouble," though mercy intervene to rescue some from the dire extremity - eternal judgment. (Isaiah 40:2.) This period terminates with the Lord's coming "as a thief in the night," the day of the Lord, ushered in, as it will be, by judgment. There were then those who took occasion, by the afflictions of the Thessalonians, to rob them of the Christian's hope, assuming that the afflictions were wrath poured out, which falsified the character of God's dealings with His children, and arguing from this, that the only prospect before them was "the coming" referred to above. The apostle therefore rebuts this deception by the most blessed, detailed, and exhaustive statement of the Christian's hope we have in Scripture. He reassures the saints in a double way. We are not appointed unto wrath, but to obtain salvation, just as in Christ we are under grace, not under the law as Israel is, who will reap the terrible consequences of it by-and-by. We have not realized salvation yet, though "our own" (Phil. 2:12) in title, sure as the precious blood of Christ could make it. It is still future, though objectively with the eye upon Him unveiled in glory. We have it even now in more than title; for He Himself is the measure of it, inasmuch as we shall be like Him. Little of His glory and preciousness have we yet apprehended, and in proportion as we apprehend we appropriate; but when we are brought so near that we can see Him as He is, and see nothing of ourselves, transformation will have been complete; we shall have "attained," reached perfection subjectively. Nor yet that the process must be according to the present rate, thank God. Oh, how slow! We are to obtain salvation "in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye." This is our hope, blessed be God! Not to wait on earth till the Lord Jesus comes in judgment, but to have our everlasting portion in His presence, and to judge with Him when He appears, having been taken away meanwhile "to meet Him in the air." T. K.