The Second Division of Paul's Epistles

Treats of associative or collective relationships of the people of God. Here the Thessalonian epistles, the earliest of all, and simplest, begin with the thought of an assembly in God the Father, a term nowhere else used, but which clearly points to the life they have in Him. This life is manifested in the faith, and love and hope which characterize and make known the children of God; born of the Word of the gospel, coming in the power of the Spirit. The character of the instruments used of God in this testimony is seen, and that the hope of the Christian is in the coming of the Lord, which is dwelt upon, and in the second epistle connected with the apostasy foreseen in the last days, — the development of the mystery of lawlessness already working.

Corinthians then in two more epistles shows us the Church as the body of Christ, and the temple of God, indwelt of the Spirit. Sharply precisionized as it is, there is no need at present of going more fully into it. The teaching of the second epistle is, as always, supplementary to the first; ministry, a fundamental need in connection with every member of the body, being the great theme of it.

Hebrews, in the third place, brings us into the sanctuary, as a holy priesthood, through the rent veil, Christ having gone in before for us in the value of His finished work, having obtained eternal redemption. This epistle, which some would set aside from the number of Paul's, is here seen plainly to fill its place, numerically, and in the development of doctrine which the series presents. It is the Ephesians of this second division, and no other could possibly be substituted for it.

Timotheus means "one who honors God;" and the two epistles addressed to him correspond with this in the most complete manner. Godliness is their keynote; and the Church is seen in them as the house of God, to be governed, therefore, according to that holiness which becomes it, and in the maintenance of the truth without which holiness is impossible. The establishment of elders and deacons is for the furtherance of this. In the second epistle, as in that to the Thessalonians, we see the incoming of evil, of which the first warns us; and then there is need to purge oneself from the vessels to dishonor in the "great house" of Christendom, and follow righteousness, faith, peace, with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. These two epistles, coming in the fourth place, show us the test, and failure under test, of the responsible witness for. God upon the earth, and that without a good conscience being maintained the faith cannot be saved from shipwreck (1 Tim. 1:19).

Titus, therefore, the Deuteronomy of this series, teaches the necessary joining of these things together. The truth is according to godliness; all doctrine, when received into the heart, has in it a spiritual power which fashions the life and ways. The grace of God, which brings salvation, is really that which effectually teaches to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world, looking for Him who has died to redeem us from all iniquity, which, as we see, was already too sadly prevalent among professing Christians; all the more was it to be resisted and rebuked.

The First Epistle to the Thessalonians

Scope and Divisions of First Thessalonians

The epistles to the Thessalonians are, as already said, distinguished from all others by the style of their address "to the assembly of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father." Of the assembly as the body of Christ there is no mention; a thought with which that of an assembly of Thessalonians would be incongruous. They are addressed as possessors of divine life, which is manifested in them by their faith and love and hope, wrought in them by the gospel in the power of the Holy Spirit, and which declares their election. This is especially dwelt upon in the first epistle, though referred to more briefly in the second. The character of the witness through whom God gives this effective testimony is dwelt on also; and the heathen themselves are witnesses of the effect, in their being turned from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, their Deliverer from the coming wrath. They had a new King, people said, one Jesus. How new a thing indeed to those whose gods might inspire fear, but in the vices they exhibited, neither love nor respect! Here now was a King indeed, and a people who could justify their loyalty as none else could, — a King with a crown of thorns, and a Saviour! Faith, love, and hope found their centre thus in Him; their future was but His coming, and so both epistles, though in different aspects, contemplate it. The large place it has is fully accounted for: it was part of the Christian character, as given by Christ Himself when on earth, "Ye yourselves like unto men that wait for their Lord."

The divisions of the epistle are:
1. (1 Thess. 1.): The Word in power introducing to the true and living God as Father, and putting under the authority of Christ as Lord.
2. (1 Thess. 2 — 4:12): The witness in which God bears witness.
3. (1 Thess. 4:13 — 5:11): The new revelation of the resurrection of the saints at the coming of the Lord.
4. (1 Thess. 5:12-28): Ways accordant.


Division 1. (1 Thess. 1.)

The Word in power introducing to the true and living God, the Father, and putting under the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ.

As this epistle is the first of those written by the apostle, at least of those in the wisdom of God come down to us, so it is in regard to doctrine the simplest. There is, in fact, little formal statement of doctrine at all. Though these underlie the whole, there is no mention of eternal life, of new birth, nor even of relationship of children to the Father. There is no difficulty in finding all this in it, but it must be by the aid of other scriptures.

1. Paul joins with himself, after his manner, those who had labored with him in the work among those he is addressing. He addresses the Thessalonians, as has been before remarked, in a different way from any other assembly. He does not speak of them as the assembly of God in Thessalonica, but as the assembly of Thessalonians, rather a company, one may say, than a body; and "in God the Father," a company of children who have received life from Him. Thus to the Athenians the apostle had declared that "in Him we live, and move, and have our being;" and adds in quotation from one of their own poets, "For we are also His offspring." There is certainly a great difference between what the apostle states as true of all men, and what he here clearly ascribes to a Christian assembly as such. For however Paul might make use of man's place in creation to rebuke the folly and degradation of idolatry, he certainly would be one of the last to forget or ignore the fact that sin had come in and caused him to forfeit his natural right to claim this place so that when the Jews would have done so with the Lord, He answered, "If God were your Father, ye would love Me." But these very words show that for the Thessalonians this original right had been recovered.

Yet we must make no mistake. The original place is but the feeble image of what is now the Christian's. The salvation of God has not simply set us back where we were before. Had it been our own work, that might indeed have been all that could be thought of; but it is the work of Christ, with all the value of His Person, His sufferings and death attaching to it. As the fruit of this, a new creation starts into being, and Christ as the last Adam has all things put into His hands, to renew after another and more glorious fashion all the promise of the first Paradise in the "paradise of God."

Thus appended to "in God the Father" we have here "in the Lord Jesus Christ;" for this is how a way into the family of God has been regained for us, — we are "alive unto God in Christ Jesus." As we were in Adam by virtue of the life received from him, so are we in the new Adam by a life we have received; only a life so much higher, as Christ is higher than our first father, and we are born of the Spirit, so as to be partakers of the divine nature, Christ becoming the "First-born among many brethren."

This prepares the way for what the apostle goes on with satisfaction of heart to dwell upon, the result in these Thessalonians of the new life they have received. The faith and love and hope manifested in them were its evidence; for which he continually thanked God. These things were not merely a profession, but living realities. Their work was a work of faith: its motives were in the unseen, in heaven where God dwelt, not unknown, but known in Christ, all being in the light of that light. Nor was it a cold illumination: love found here its objects, and made this work an energetic "labor." Hope yet was needed; for love itself would cease to labor, if once it were clear that there could be no result; and with the Thessalonians hope gave persistence to their labor of love. All was recognized and accepted with that Divine Father, before whom they acted (Matt. 6:1, 6, 18); and the apostle realized in it their election in the love of Him who is love. Their life thus bore witness for them, but of a grace through which they had received life. All was of God, who of His own good pleasure had begotten them to Himself.

2. The apostle recalls to their minds bow these things had been wrought in them. It was the gospel which had been the fruitful seed of this bountiful harvest, — a seed having life in it: a gospel, or "good news," the testimony to His love from whom it came, winning the heart that believed the message; for "we love Him who first loved us," says the apostle (1 John 4:19). Man has turned his back on God, having lent his ear to the devil; and the voice of recall must be a gospel that shall undo the work of Satan, while at the same time it reveals man to himself, and so humbles him in repentance before God. The Cross does both things. If it was the Son of God who hung there, for what did He hang? Was there no need for it? Nay, "the Son of man must be lifted up." This is at once the remedy provided for man, and his conviction as one needing such a remedy. And who, one might ask, can resist the tender appeal of such an argument? If the Son of God is to endure the penalty, can it be more than absolute righteousness requires? Can it be a harsh estimate on the part of Him who gave His Son to be the propitiation for our sins? Thus expiation and reconciliation are found together in the Cross: God is not against, but for us, in an infinite love, the only measure of which is an infinite sacrifice. Shall we not henceforth listen believingly, obediently, to Him whose whole heart has been told out in a way no human heart could have conceived, and which now surpasses human power to comprehend it as it is?

Yet even the gospel cannot work its way with man by all its competence to meet his spiritual need, nor by its display of divine goodness: "Our gospel," says the apostle, "came not unto you in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Spirit, and in much assurance." Power there is not to change men's hearts apart from the work of the Spirit of God; but thus also is the divine work, spite of the inherent weakness of him who might be the subject of it, stable through all trial, and above all adverse influences. Father, Son, and Spirit are all, indeed, thus united to effect the salvation of the poor and sinful sons of men, though only faith may be able to realize, under the veil of the natural, the Presence of Him to whom all nature is obedient.

In making known His gospel God is pleased to use, not the tongues of angels, but those of men, recipients themselves of the same grace; who can give testimony with their lives as with their lips. Upon this the apostle lays great emphasis: "even as ye know what sort of persons we were among you for your sakes." This had had its part in making the Thessalonians what they were: "and ye became imitators of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit." Thus the work makes known the workman; while it is just as true that the more the workman is with God, the less of himself there will be in it. "Ye are our epistle," says the apostle to the Corinthians, "forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us; written, not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tables of stone, but on fleshy tables of the heart" (2 Cor. 3:2-3). And this is what makes the "imitation" of such workmen to be safe and right; for there is this qualification always in it, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ;" as here — "imitators of us and of the Lord." How good to be able to have a well-grounded confidence that these two things are one! The effect is manifest: "read and known of all men," is said of the Corinthians; and here the report went all abroad of these who had turned to God from idols, — to serve the living and true God. But beyond this, such was the freshness among these Thessalonians that they "became patterns to all that believe in Macedonia and in Achaia."

3. Thus the word of the Lord is published all around; the new life emphasizes the new doctrine from which it proceeded. "Blameless and harmless, the sons of God, without rebuke, in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation," they shone as "lights in the world, holding forth the word of life." The life and the word of life give fittingly their evidence together, and not otherwise; though Christ is the "Faithful Witness" when His people fail. The Thessalonians did not fail, but spoke out in such a way that those who had labored among them had no need to say anything with regard to their work. That which they were saying was sufficiently surprising: not only that there was one living and true God, in contrast with the idol-nothings of heathenism, and true service loyally given to Him, but that also the Son of God was coming in the clouds of heaven to inflict judgment for the sins of men. For Him they waited, but not in fear, though they themselves were sinners. On the contrary, they looked for Him with joy and thankfulness, as One who had come on earth to deliver them from the wrath to come, which all must meet who have not taken refuge in Him. Redemption, salvation became in this way the key-words of a new song, which those who knew it could sing in the midst of whatever difficulties, and in the face of whatever enemies.

Division 2. (1 Thess. 2 — 4:12.)

The witness in which God bears witness.

The second division shows us by the example of the apostle himself, and those who with him had been laboring among them, the character of the instruments with which God works. He may, of course, overrule in any case, and bless the word of truth even from ungodly lips; and so Paul could rejoice if Christ were preached, even though it were of envy and strife. One's responsibility to the truth is because it is the truth. So that in any question as to this we may dismiss the speaker from our thoughts. Nay, were the speaker, as fully as Paul was, the minister of Christ, he would all the more recognize the very real danger of one receiving the Word as sanctioned by, rather than sanctioning, the utterer of it. For indeed how common a thing is it, thus to make the word of man of what is even owned to be the word of God! The true effect of it is in this way lost for the soul; and as this may be with the truth as a whole, so that the result is mere orthodoxy — a Christianity of only human making, — so it may be with regard to every separate truth — each item of the wondrous whole. How jealous need we to be over ourselves in these things.

Here, however, the apostle is dwelling upon the truth which is thus perverted, but which is no less the truth because of its perversion. The God of holiness is holy in His ways; and His instruments must be suited to this in character. The truth itself is holy; and those who make it known must do so in the effect manifested in their own lives and ways. And Satan, the great opposer of truth, shows his perfect knowledge of this when, as Paul says, he is transformed for his purpose into an angel of light. "Therefore," he goes on to say, "it is no small thing if also his ministers be transformed as the ministers of righteousness:" even he recognizes the need of suitability morally of end and ways.

1. He can appeal to what himself and his fellow-laborers were, as they went in and out amongst them. The main insistence is upon their manifest unselfishness. They had come from scourging and imprisonment at Philippi; and with the consciousness, as the apostle says elsewhere, that in every city bonds and afflictions awaited them. Certainly it was not their own things that they could find or seek, in pursuing a course which involved such things for them. Yet they did steadfastly pursue it. As bold as ever in their confidence in God, they made known still, amid much affliction, what was none the less God's good news of joy. They had modified nothing, they had used no flattery, they had sought to please God, not man; Him whose omniscience searched the hearts of those who had to do with Him. From men they had sought nothing — had not insisted on undoubted rights — but found delight in giving what they had to give, yea, and their own souls with it. It was not simply righteousness, but love that sought not its own, and in which they labored, enforcing all their precept by example. And this that the recipients of the gospel might walk worthy of the God declared in it, who was calling men to His own Kingdom and glory.

2. They had not been disappointed at the result among the Thessalonians. The word of God had been received by them as what indeed it was, and, so received, it wrought its divine work. It took them out of their natural place in a world fallen away from God, to make them companions of those rejected by the world, but of whom the world was not worthy. Thus, says the apostle, "ye became imitators of the assemblies of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus; for ye also suffered the same things of your own countrymen. even as they of the Jews." Nor need they think this strange who were followers of the Crucified One. Israel, alas! the first in privilege among the nations, had only by this become the guiltiest of all. The Lord Jesus Himself was among them the Head of a long line of martyrs, the prophets, of whom Stephen asks, "Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them who showed before of the coming of the Righteous One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and the murderers." Thus the nation chosen out of the world for the blessing of the world became the great opposers and hinderers of blessing. "They please not God and are contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the nations, that they might be saved." Israel are, therefore, for the present, rejected and set aside; they have filled up the measure of their sins, and wrath is come upon them to the uttermost.

Such was God's heart towards the Gentiles; of which they, His laborers in the gospel, were witnesses and exponents. Bereaved of them for a moment, and having to leave them in the midst of a contrary world, their hearts unchangeably were with them, and desiring to come to them again; yea, Paul himself did, as he assures them; having been hindered, not by lack of heart, but by the great adversary of Christ and His people. And in the meantime he might seem thus to prevail; but faith contemplated another scene when the evil with which we are now in conflict shall have been put down, and, in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself at His coming, these now afflicted and despised Thessalonians would become indeed, what already faith held them for, the glory and joy of those of whom they were the fruit of love's sweet labor.

Paul proceeds to show how far from indifferent he had been with regard to the afflictions they had been passing through. These had been foretold them from the first, so that they might not be taken by them unawares; nevertheless he could not leave them to the actual experience of them — so different from the looking forward merely to what had not yet come — without seeking to minister to the need which he, acquainted with suffering of this kind, knew so well. Timothy, therefore, had been sent to confirm their faith; and his return with the news of their constancy had filled with joy and comfort the apostle's heart. "For now," he says, "we live, if ye stand fast in the Lord." It is evident that here is the soul of the true worker manifest, and that this is the object throughout this part of the epistle, to show as illustrated by experience the instruments by which God works in His spiritual harvest-fields. There is no need to dwell upon it, by reason of its being so plain; while the lesson conveyed is of the utmost importance. The apostle uses the most forcible expressions to declare the thorough identification of his heart with them in all their joy and sorrow, — his realization of, and longing in regard to their need, which expressed itself in constant and earnest supplication to God that he might again be with them, and that they might have spiritual increase and establishment in holiness such as might meet approval, in the day of approval, at the coming of the Lord Jesus with all His saints.

3. He passes hereupon into exhortation. Never satisfied with any attainment, he urges upon them still more to abound in that which would please God. Two things he presses; the one complementary to the other: abstention from lust, and abounding in love. The one was even a part of the religion of the heathen; as, in the broader sense of it, it was that out of which sprang idolatry, and through which comes the corruption of the world. In the narrower and grosser sense it was indulged in the very temples of their gods. It is a proof of the moral atmosphere in which they had been brought up, that to Christians so commended as are those here it should be necessary to warn them against the gross immoralities which, however, we find later invading Corinth. For us all, moreover, it is written, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." We must not, therefore, pass lightly over what is left for our instruction also in the never-failing wisdom of One who knows the hearts of men.

But the remedy is also here, love which is the opposite of lust: the one the dominance and tyranny of self; the other that which seeketh not its own, — the spirit of service and self-denial. True, it is the love of brethren that the apostle here exhorts to, and not love in its universal aspect; but although these are separable, they will not be found, in fact, separate. The love to one another, which Paul reminds them they have been taught of God, cannot exist without flowing out to those who still are what we all once were, when divine grace met and brought us into the circle in which alone God's love can reflect itself, as being enjoyed. Here the satisfied heart finds deliverance from the lusts of other things, covets but what is its own, and what is secured to it, and that which drives out lust puts in love in its place, to hold the citadel. Love is the bond of perfectness, the active energy of the divine life in the saint, and victorious in every field of conflict. The quiet occupation with one's own work, and the maintenance by this means of a proper and healthful independence of others, naturally unite with such a care for others as love ensures.

Division 3. (1 Thess. 4:13–5:11.)

The resurrection of the saints at the coming of the Lord.

The Christian hope is prominent in this epistle from the first. The Thessalonians had been converted to wait for God's Son from heaven, and this became the light for them upon a path which ended in the glory already revealed. Important it surely was that there should be no cloud upon the prospect thus before them in which the opened heavens claimed them constantly; while for the earth also was seen the end of Satan's power and of the curse, and the regeneration of the earth itself. What power for sanctification this, which made of those possessing such a hope pilgrims indeed; encompassing them continually with the atmosphere and light of heaven and the world to come!

For the Thessalonians, however, there was in fact a cloud which shadowed this glorious expectation; and the apostle proceeds to dispel it by the announcement of a new "word of the Lord," a new revelation, which declares the participation in it of the dead, for whom they were sorrowing as cut off from that which was the hope of the living. On the contrary he shows that the dead will be raised up to share with the living all that was before them. There would be no division of this sort between those alike the people of Christ. And he goes on to remind them that they were not to be (as Israel rightly will be) calculating times and seasons, which would have their place in connection with the day of the Lord, yet to come upon the world as a thief in the night. For the children of the day, suddenly as it might come, it could be no such unwelcome surprise. Let them not, therefore, sleep as others, but clothe themselves with the light as with an armor which would be their defence in a hostile place; assuring themselves that, whether living or dying, they were alike to live with their Saviour-Lord.

1. The apostle does not reprove them for the want of knowledge which they had; and which, if not inevitable, yet at least was not to be wondered at. There was, in fact, as his speaking by the word of the Lord implies, as yet no definite statement of Scripture with regard to that which troubled these young disciples. The, opposite has indeed been asserted; and the phrase itself even taken as a direct appeal to Scripture. But he does not produce any scripture; nor, had he done so, would it seem like Paul to affirm his speaking by it after this manner. The sufficient answer is, however, that no passage has been brought forward which could justify this view; and we may be confident none can be brought forward. The texts which have been referred to (Matt. 16:27; Matt. 24:31; Matt. 25:1 sq.; Luke 14:14; John 5:28 sq.) are wholly incompetent; so that others have been obliged to imagine an unwritten word of the Lord which had come to Paul's ears; but why not, then, a fresh communication from the Lord in glory, such as we know he received on other subjects, and others also beside himself received? True it is, indeed, that one might well believe, apart from any positive statement, that the Lord would not, in the way they feared, leave any Of His own in the day of His manifestation under the power of that death which He had Himself passed through, — deprived, not by any fault of their own, of the full participation in the glory which that death of His had entitled them to. The lack of assurance in this respect on the part of the Thessalonians may well show us our dullness in spiritual things. Yet for this the Lord has now made special provision. It is like Him, and we have all of us cause to be thankful for it. No! "if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, so also those who have fallen asleep through Jesus will God bring with Him."

Let us notice a little exactly the expressions here: for we may be assured that they are themselves exact, as always in Scripture. "Jesus died;" His saints but "fall asleep." With Him indeed it was death, and in all its reality and severity as the judgment upon sin, — the sign and type of a deeper judgment. With them it is but "sleep," — rest and refreshment, from which they rise to a day that knows no ending and suffers no decline, — a rest too, but in the full activity of life, where life is never dormant, but the joy of the Lord is strength indeed.

For, if Jesus died, He rose again; and this is what gives His death itself its full power in blessing for our souls. Thus the apostle puts the two together, as the full argument of faith as to its portion from God. It is God who raised up Jesus again. He has answered the cry, "Why hast Thou forsaken Me?" by putting the Sufferer where all the meaning of His death can now come out. Righteousness sorrowing gave Him up to die; but righteousness joyfully raises Him from the dead. Had He suffered on His own account, He could not have come out of it; His coming out is the testimony of personal righteousness in Himself, and thus of a work done for others, and of its acceptance also in their behalf. He rises their Representative, even as He died their Substitute; and the honors so acquired He, whose wealth could not be increased, acquired as treasure that He could pour out upon them. Thus His resurrection is full argument for their own; and if God bring Him again into the world, they too shall come with Him; God shall bring them with Him. In the day of His manifestation all must do Him honor: so He comes in the glory of His Father, with the holy angels; and how shall the dominion of death which He has broken keep from Him those who show the value of the work which has set it aside?

The apostle here announces only the truth concerning those on whose account they are bearing so needless a burden of sorrow. "God shall bring them with Him," — His own, from whom He cannot needlessly be separated. Not, as some strangely imagine, bring them as spirits to rejoin the bodies left behind on earth: it is merely the simple and blessed fact, that they will not be wanting in the company that God brings with His Son. Then he goes on to explain how it shall be, and brings in here the assurance of their previous resurrection. "For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord are in no way to anticipate those who have fallen asleep. Because the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and the trump of God, and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we who are alive and remain shall be caught away together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord."

Thus we can realize the tenderness of the expression, "those who have fallen asleep through Jesus," or I think, better "those who have been laid asleep by Jesus," — by Him who has the keys of death and hades, and their Saviour. Taken in the first way, the meaning would be that "through Jesus," — through His work for them, — death had become to them merely a sleep; but it would seem a strange manner of expressing this. Taken in the second way, the Lord's rule over death and His tender care of His people are both implied.

To us, for whom the great body of Christians are already among the dead, it cannot be a question that those remaining to the coming of the Lord will not precede the apostles and the multitude of the departed in their entrance into glory; yet, for all that, how little is the significance of this rising "first" of the dead in Christ realized by believers still. The common thought (thank God, less common than it was) of a single day of judgment in which saints and sinners rise together, necessarily destroys it entirely. Here a resurrection of the dead is shown to take place before the living saints are changed even; and then both are caught away together, to meet the Lord in the air. When He appears, therefore, they appear with Him (Col. 3:4). Here is no promiscuous crowd, clearly: they that are ready go in with Him to the marriage and the door is shut." There is no need for our present purpose to consider what or where this marriage is. This consideration belongs elsewhere, and is to be found where it belongs (Matt. 25:1 sq., notes); but we see at once that here is the company from which the Thessalonians thought their dying brethren might be excluded. It is not the dead who wait and watch with their lamps trimmed and burning; and they are in fact left out of the picture that our Lord has given us there. The apostle, speaking by the word of the Lord, now adds them to the company of those who thus go forth. As with the living so with the dead, they are not the whole number of those dead, but, as the apostle elsewhere says, they that are Christ's at His coming" (1 Cor. 15:23). Those who compose this company are distinctly specified: they are, according to the language of the epistle to the Philippians, the "out-resurrection from among the dead" (Phil. 3:11).

Scripture is a perfectly consistent whole; and the faithfulness and love of God shine out in it. Christians may lose sight of what they are to Christ, but it is impossible for Him to deny Himself. They can mingle themselves with the world; but He who has redeemed them out of it can never mingle them. They will come with Him to the judgment of the world — not be judged with it by Him; and this is what the doctrine of the "resurrection from among the dead" decisively bears witness to. But all the details and manner of it are in full harmony with this. Even the prodigal, according to the Lord's own picture, must be met outside the father's house, with the father's arms; and where it is the gathering of Christians finally to their Lord, the "Lord Himself" must come to claim them: "the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout of command," as in supreme authority. This, although question has been made of it, is His own voice; and thus the "voice of the archangel" follows and is distinguished from it. The highest among angels — those "ministers of His that do His pleasure," — in sympathetic obedience gives the word (as it would seem) to the angelic host, and the trump of God sounds. "The trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we" (the living) "shall be changed" (1 Cor. 15:52). Thus the trumpet here is no call to battle, as some have thought it, but answers to the call of the assembly, in Num. 10:3-4. In Matt. 24:31, the Son of man sends His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other. This, as has been shown in the consideration of the passage, is the gathering of dispersed Israel. In our present epistle it is rather what would answer to the gathering of the princes (Num. 10:4); for the company gathered is that of those who are to reign with Christ over the earth. The announcement here is exactly as in Corinthians: the dead in Christ rise first; then "we who are alive and remain" are "caught away together with them," — which involves, of course, the change of which Corinthians speaks. We are "caught away in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air; and so shall we be ever with the Lord."

It is not perhaps remarkable, and yet we may do well to notice, how throughout this word of comfort that title "Lord" comes in; "the word of the Lord," "the coming of the Lord," "the Lord Himself," "to meet the Lord," "be ever with the Lord." It is, no doubt, the time when His lordship will be manifest to all; and that may seem sufficient reason for it. What a joy it will be beyond expression, to see all power put into the Hands alone competent to wield it! to have every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father! But "so shall we be ever with the Lord" sounds somewhat in a different line of thought; and here we perhaps rather expect the sweet familiar "Jesus," His name on earth, but far from excluding the thought of His divine personality. To fulfil the prophecy that He was to be called Emmanuel, He was called Jesus; and that, too, because He would save His people from their sins. It is a name wonderfully complete therefore in what it expresses. Yet in the thought of eternity, as the apostle realizes it in the passage before us, he does not say, we shall be ever with Jesus, nor even, the Lord Jesus, but simply, "for ever with the Lord." Some even seem to deem it too cold and distant a title for heaven; but they can hardly have noticed how it is used by the inspired writers. While, of course, speaking of authority, it is an authority under which they delight to be putting themselves, as it were, continually. With him who, though most free, would ever be known as the "bondservant of Christ," they are ever proclaiming and exulting in His Lordship. And for those who have realized the bitter bondage of sin, how blessed the deliverance which could only be achieved by the strong hand of this glorious Master. For them this is not the language of distance, but of joyous worship. Released from such authority, to what would they be released? Will eternity make any difference in this respect? Will they need deliverance from that which wrought deliverance for them? The apostle answers that there, when we reach the end which all before has been hastening on to, — "we shall be ever with the Lord." It is the answer of heart to Him who has come forth "Himself" in joy of heart to meet them, to Him whose own words were, to those fearing soon to be made orphans by His absence, "I will come again, and receive you to Myself; that where I am there ye may be also."

2. This is, of course, but the coming of the Lord in one aspect: as it bears upon the condition of the sleeping saints. The apostle goes on now to what is most closely connected with it, but yet not synonymous, as many take it. The "day of the Lord" is, in fact, ushered in by the coming of the Lord: it cannot be before Christ has risen from where He is now seated, on the Father's throne, to take that which is His as Son of man. In this character it is that all judgment is committed to Him (John 5:22, 27); and thus it is that as the Son of man He comes in the clouds of heaven and sits upon the throne of His glory. But before He thus appears, He has first of all to gather His associates upon the throne of His Kingdom; and this it is which we have been just looking at. When He appears, we shall appear with Him in glory (Col. 3:4); and when He reigns we shall reign with Him over the earth. But for this we must be either raised or changed; and more than this, we must "appear," or better, "be manifested," before the judgment-seat of Christ (2 Cor. 5:10). As to acceptance of our persons, that is already accomplished; we are "accepted in the Beloved" (Eph. 1:6). Thus, personally, as He Himself has told us, he that has heard His word, and believed on Him who sent slim shall not come into judgment, but is passed from death unto life (John 5:24). But the appraisal of our works is another thing, and that there shall be this we are as definitely assured. "We shall be manifested before the judgment-seat of Christ." It is the triumph of divine grace that everything can be brought out thus, and we can "give account of ourselves to God," without the least sullying of divine holiness; even under the scrutiny of the light of God, "made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light" (Col. 1:12). Yet so "shall every one receive the things done in the body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." The appraisal is for reward; and we receive reward or suffer loss accordingly. This therefore must be settled before His saints can come forth with their Lord, each in his apportioned place according to the judgment of divine holiness, as well as in manifestation of divine grace.

We are to meet the Lord in the air; and then, according to what the tenor of Scripture generally implies, that apportionment of reward takes place. With this also there will necessarily be another thing of incalculable value for the soul, — wisdom gathered for eternity as to sin and holiness, good and evil, and the perfect ways of God's government as to each. What lessons for the judges of the new Kingdom, who have themselves passed under the searching of inflexible holiness before they come to fill that place! How suited that they should do this; and this accounts on the one side for that which perhaps no single text, but the combined force of many prophetic scriptures assures us will be the case, that between the taking away of the saints to meet their Lord and His coming with them in the clouds of heaven there will elapse a considerable time — in fact some years. This is a matter much in dispute even yet among those who have devoted themselves more than others to the study of prophecy. It would be impossible to take it up in any adequate way here; nor is this the place in which to consider it. The full unfolding is in the book of Revelation; while the Lord's own prophecy upon the Mount of Olives, as Matthew has recorded it, is an important link between this and Daniel, the Old Testament revelation. The second epistle here, with its warning as to apostasy from Christianity threatening, and the coming of the man of sin, almost completes the scriptures relating to this subject.

But thus it is plain that the day of the Lord begins for the earth as it may be said, secretly, and is characterized in its beginning by judgment, more and more descending upon a world ripening more and more in its iniquity. The true saints in Christendom being removed to the presence of their Lord, it becomes a mere corrupt mass, lapsing into open and defiant infidelity. And now it is that, the Gentile branches being cat off, (because they abode not in the grace received) the natural branches are to be graffed again into their own olive-tree; this too for final and full blessing to the world at large (Rom. 11:16-26). A remnant awakened by the Spirit of God to the sense of their national guilt in the rejection of Christ, and purified by the trials through which they pass, in the midst of the apostasy of the mass who receive Antichrist, are prepared for the coming of the Lord, not now into the air, as when He takes away the saints of the present and the past, but to the earth, to judge it. (See the notes on the book of Psalms, passim).

It is in connection with Israel that all the Old Testament prophecies find fulfilment; and its history moves in accord with prophecy. For with the blessing of the earthly people comes the blessing of the earth; and when Israel loses her position as a nation, the history of the earth is for the present closed.

The interval has indeed the most wonderful history of all; but it is that of a people called out from the earth — from Israel and from the nations both, and destined for heaven.

Thus it is plain why the apostle says to the Thessalonians here, that of the times and seasons they had no need that he should write to them. In fact, the Lord had at the beginning told His disciples that it was not for them to know the times and the seasons, which the Father had placed under His own authority (Acts 1:7). Their question, to which this is an answer, shows that, as we know, the heavenly calling of the Church was yet unrevealed. Even now they might not know all that this involved in the way of separation from Jewish and earthly prophecy; but they knew perfectly well that the day of the Lord was to come as a thief in the night. This was evidently the common Christian knowledge, and made it plain that its coming could not be calculated from Daniel's prophetic periods, for instance. In these, in fact, are found incalculable elements which, until the time comes when they will speak out, will necessarily defeat all attempts at a right estimate. Had it been possible in the apostle's days to predict the centuries of delay that have, in fact, elapsed, disciples might indeed still have waited for their Lord, but watched they could not, and no "thief in the night" could have troubled their slumbers. But for the heart expectancy was needed; and they were to watch because they knew not. Thus for these watchers the times could not speak; and in fact when they do it will be for another people than the present Christian Church, and when this is already removed to be with the Lord in the manner which we have just had before us.

For mere formal and worldly Christendom, the coming of the thief will then in a sense have taken place. Shut out in the outside darkness, when others have entered the chambers of light, no place of repentance will be left for the despisers of God's present grace. In a world which, having rejected the true King, will be left for that awful time to experience fully what Satan's rule is, they will fall under the power of his deception. Not having received the love of the truth that they might be saved, they will believe a lie; and comforting themselves with the cry of "Peace and safety," sudden destruction will come upon them as upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape!

They have chosen darkness, alas, with the light all round them; and for such the darkness is appointed. Impossible is it for the true Christian to be thus overtaken as a thief. A son of the day, the darkness has no title or claim with regard to him. The night is the period when darkness reigns; but the Christian is not of it, — not of the present "age" at all: it is characterized by a rejected Christ, gone from the earth — the Light of the world withdrawn. But the Holy Spirit is come, and the light is restored to faith: faith receives the light from heaven, though the night is unchanged by that; and the sons of light have to be armed against the darkness, which is all around them. Upon those who are in the light it can only come as a spirit of slumber, or as intoxication from the world's siren cup. But in the light itself is the remedy for this; and Christ as apprehended in the soul is its armor of defence from both snare and open assault: faith and love cover the citadel of the heart, — are its breastplate, therefore, — while the hope of salvation (the full deliverance at hand) is as a helmet for the head against all stunning of discouragement. We must brace this armor to us, says the apostle, that we may find its full sufficiency; and the expectation speedily of the Lord's return is cheer indeed, both as to the dead and in the daily conflict of the living: "God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ; who died for us that, whether we wake or sleep, we may live together with Him." With this hope we may well encourage one another, as with a hope with which we ourselves are comforted of God. The apostle could, indeed, thank Him as to the Thessalonian Christians, that they were doing this.

Division 4. (1 Thess. 5:12-28.)

Ways accordant.

The epistle closes, according to the general manner, with exhortation to practical conduct suited to the place of blessing they enjoyed as partakers of this blessed hope. The doctrine which is according to godliness, as the apostle reminds Titus, must be given practical manifestation in the lives of its professors. And while the Thessalonians were in reality shining examples of the power of Christianity, yet no one of us was ever beyond the need of exhortation. Where the heart is right with God, the details of the life may yet need to be set right. Things may not be in due proportion and balance; and thus one truth may be bulking so large as to interfere with the right appreciation of other truth. Individuality may be stiffened into a false independence, or corporate responsibilities be made to crowd out individuality. And, moreover, while it is true that we are instructed as to principles, rather than governed by a code of laws, yet the plain single precept has its own value and importance, — the principle being thus exemplified in its application, the abstract prevented from becoming merely an abstraction, and brought into the sphere of every-day practice. The exhortation here is brief, and in brief sentences; and much of it requires no exposition, little comment such as suits our purpose now.

1. The apostle begins with urging them to recognize the Lord's working in those who, in the activity of love, were laboring among them. Leaders there surely were and are: those in whom might be discerned, not mere human energy but divine; who were to be followed, therefore, because, and as, they followed Christ. He has no idea of any blind or servile following, — of any recognition of unspiritual men in spiritual place, or invested with power by man where man had none, and God had bestowed none. The responsibility pressed upon them was one which, by the terms expressed, appealed to them as free, spiritual, and responsible, subject to Christ alone, although He may and does have those through whom He works, and whom, so far as they are this, the saints are gladly to recognize, and submit to them. It is the very opposite of a clergy constituted by man. Laboring and taking the lead in the Lord, their responsibility is to Him, and their authority is of Him wholly; and thus their admonitions have true spiritual weight. As with the word of God itself, admonition will of necessity have large place in their appeals, — leading in a path so unique and separate from all that the natural man craves and follows, and in which the weakness and folly that still cling to us become so painfully apparent. Admonition is thus in an eminent way a service of love; all the more because of the pain that must be in it, when truly this. As Paul says to the Ephesians, that he "ceased not night and day to admonish each one of them with tears" (Acts 20:31). What need is implied here! and what earnestness to meet it! Well may he exhort the Thessalonians now to esteem such very highly in love for their works, sake. No fitting response could be but love to love.

2. There follow general moral exhortations; at the head of which comes that to peace. It is true that sometimes one must contend: we are to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3); but the apostle is here contemplating no such case; and alas, the strife of self-interest is that which too commonly disturbs the people of God; the sure sign of the allowance of lusts which show that Christ is not the present satisfaction of the soul. Real contention for the faith will be because Christ is before it, as surely as the other betrays His absence. The atmosphere of His presence is indeed peace; but conflict may be needed that that peace may be enjoyed; if it be rebellion that has launched us into it, it is not we who have broken the peace, but those who have made it impossible to retain it without treason to our Lord.

But the peace which is the result of communion will be that which maintains divine order, which is alone consistent with it. Obedience to the will of God is harmony with all around, as sin is discord, none the less but more because of the multitude that swell it. When the concord of human wills against the divine shall seem to be great enough to have conquered a harmony without God and in defiance of Him, then judgment will be at hand, complete and final, and peace will be the effect of established righteousness.

But while the disorderly are to be admonished, it is of importance also to remember those who languish in the strife continually going on between the evil and the good, a strife from which it is impossible to deliver them. The difficulties of life perplex and dismay them. They maintain a feeble and spiritless testimony, which may lapse into more or less compliance with that against which it seems vain to struggle. Here it needs much discernment often to distinguish between weakness and wilfulness; and indeed no strict line can be drawn between conditions of this kind. Weakness is often the cover and excuse for wilfulness; and admonition has constantly more or less to be blended with comfort. For with the abundant provision God has made for us, the wealth of promises, the fulfilment of which is secured by all the unchangeablenesss of Him who has made them, — drafts on heaven's treasury certain to be honored whenever presented, — nothing but unbelief can leave us poverty-stricken as we too often are; and what does unbelief mean but in fact a struggle between our wills and God? Yet the order — “grace and truth" — must be carefully remembered in dealing with cases of this nature. Where there is faint-heartedness, the soul must be revived and steadied by divine grace, in order to be able to act in accordance with divine principles. Yet here also no separation between these two can be maintained: grace is no grace apart from truth, and will never consent to separation; while, God being what He is, truth without grace could not be even truth, in any proper presentation of it.

"Comfort the faint-hearted, sustain the weak," implies, therefore, a difference between these which is quite intelligible. Real weakness there may be, where there is not faint-heartedness. There may be no tendency to give way to the pressure of circumstances or of evil, and yet weakness which claims the ministry of sympathetic love. "Be patient towards all" reminds us of how we all are (alas, how much!) the cause of trial to one another. All the more because we are brought so closely together, and the spiritual tie that unites us for eternity gives a seriousness to everything that forgets and ignores it. Yet, failing as we all are, how should the apprehension of this make us tender as to the faults of another; especially when we realize, as we are often made to do, how prone we are to misjudge, — how easily we find the mote in our brother's eye, while in fact a distorting "beam" is in our own. The exercise of patience is thus as much in our own interest as in our brother's; and patience becomes a matter of justice quite as much as of mercy.

Even if there be plain evil, good is that which alone will overcome it; in any case we are not to return evil for it, but to pursue always what is good; and that not only towards one another, but towards all. We are not permitted in such things to have one rule of conduct towards those inside and another towards those outside the Christian circle. We are not to have one face in the Church and another in the world. The love of God goes out to the world; and with the reflection of that divine love we are to love it too; all the more because we know the real and immense distance which the grace of God has made between us, and the certainty that as to those who remain in it, eternity will only confirm and increase that distance. Of that love of God from which they must break away to share the portion of the devil and his angels, we have the happiness and the responsibility of being representatives.

But for all this we need strength; and the "joy of the Lord is strength." It being the joy of the Lord, and Christ being always that, the result must be that we are privileged and under obligation to rejoice always. There is not a moment in which He is not Master, and in which all circumstances are not perfectly under His control. We, as it were, uncrown Him therefore, if we do not rejoice. That we are completely dependent on Him is nothing to be deducted from the blessedness of this, whatever it imply as to weakness on our own part. The unceasing prayer to which the apostle here enjoins us is, of course, the confession of this; but if the expression of need, it is no less the expression of faith in Him, the incense of whose acceptability is in our prayers; so that in everything we can be bidden to give thanks also, as what is the will of God in Christ Jesus regarding us. The abundant provision that we have in Him — the perfect assurance of omnipotent love — shows indeed what He would have, who has given Christ for us. Can there be in this sunshine a fleck of inconsistency or mutability at all? There can be but one answer; and in this sense also we are "filled into all the fulness of God." Thus joy and thanksgiving are the fitting accompaniments with which the apostle connects that prayer by which we draw out of the infinite fulness, — the exhortation in which we hear Christ's own voice appealing to us: "Eat, O friends; drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved."

The apostle closes this exhortation with one which on the one hand exemplifies the abundance of the provision God has made for us, while on the other, it reminds us, how sadly, of the folly to which we are prone; and that, alas! most of all with regard to His choicest gifts: "Quench not the Spirit," he says, "despise not prophecies."

The thought of quenching the Spirit manifestly contemplates the Spirit under the figure of fire; and we cannot but think of Pentecost with its divided tongues of fire, the manifestation in the individual of the heavenly power which had come amongst men, and come to speak with a divine message to all the families of men, divided by sin, and by the judgment upon it. The Gift, and the free giving of God were thus to be manifested by means of gifts bestowed upon those who were themselves recipients of it. But this enlightening of others was in this way a matter of responsibility on the part of those thus gifted: not in fact a limited class among Christians, except indeed as they themselves create the limit, as so many do. Here in fact is one form of quenching the Spirit, when instead of ministering one to another each according to the gift he has received (1 Peter 4:10) that which the Spirit has given is ignored, the ministry that love urges to is suppressed, and the Church suffers, deprived of how much of the blessing which might be hers, and of the ability to testify of the grace that she has learned.

Certainly there are special gifts, — "evangelists, pastors and teachers," as the Word declares; but this not to restrain the manifestation of the same Spirit in others; and especially as to prophecy, of which the apostle speaks in this connection here; his own injunction is, "Covet to prophesy;" and his encouragement to it, that "ye may all prophesy" (1 Cor, 14:1, 4, 5, 24, 30, 39). This was not necessarily the utterance of predictions, as is too commonly imagined, but that speaking out of the fulness of the Spirit what would be thus the word of God Himself, the "oracle" for His people (1 Peter 4:11). This involved, not so much what is ordinarily called "gift," as spirituality — that nearness to God which makes the "man of God," and one to whom He can therefore communicate His mind. But this might be done in the simple quotation of a text of Scripture, or in "five words," — perhaps more likely so than in a long discourse, but whose testimony would be felt in heart and conscience. The effect on "one that believeth not, or one unlearned," entering in among those so engaged is that "he is convinced of all, he is judged of all: and thus are the secrets of his heart made manifest; and so, falling down on his face, he will worship God, and report that God is in you of a truth" (1 Cor. 14:24-25). But this overflow of the divine fulness which is in all the saints today as much as in apostolic times, is not limited as to time and place, as Philip's daughters who were prophetesses show, who certainly did not prophesy in the assembly. How blessed to know that such fulness is really in us all, and that the apostle urges that it should overflow, the hindrances to this being always in ourselves, the blocking of outlet to an illimitable spring, of which we may be quite or very little conscious. In how many ways may this be done! but if out of the belly there flows not the living water, it is certain that there must be some hindrance for which we are responsible, if the Lord's words be the simple, always verifiable words they must be (John 7:38).

The figure here is not of water, but of fire; and we may quench it in one another or in ourselves. The burning words which seek for utterance may consume us inwardly as finding none; or on another's lips may merely irritate the conscience which is not duly exercised. Prophesying may in either way be despised and the Spirit quenched. What would our assemblies be, if we were delivered from these resistant forces, or even duly exercised about them! if the lethargy too often oppressing us were treated as our common responsibility, and we heard in our souls the Voice: "Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from among the dead, and Christ shall give thee light."

But there is responsibility upon another side; and so the apostle continues: "but prove all things, hold fast the right." Not everything that assumes divine authority for itself can be received as such. The Word must for us try everything, — the written communication be held superior to the prophet's voice: for here, alas, man's frailty and fallibility are to be remembered; while, moreover, we are to take heed, because "many false prophets are gone out into the world." Thus the Christian as a possessor of the truth is held to his responsibility to know and to maintain the truth. He cannot be deceived, except as he permits himself to be deceived; for he is not a child of darkness, but of the light: he has but to maintain his place as such, and be subject to that Spirit which has come to be in him the Witness for his absent Lord. To Him the various forms of evil, however specious and alluring, are known fully. "The wise" (with that fear of God which is the beginning of wisdom) — "the wise shall understand." Apart from such fear, which is not always to be found, alas, in the true Christian, we walk exposed to the enemy. Satan may assume the form of an angel of light; but we are not to be ignorant of his devices. Yet the whole armor of God is needed, that we may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

3. Having thus exhorted his beloved Thessalonians, he closes with a prayer for them that they might be, completely sanctified, or set apart to God in every faculty, whether of mind or body. Nothing less than this could he desire for them. Nothing less than this are we to tolerate in ourselves. What other can the presence of the indwelling Spirit imply? Is the house in which He dwells to be other than all His own? Power, too, certainly is His to accomplish in us all the will of God, whatever may be our own infirmity, or the opposition (always maintained in Scripture) between the Spirit and the flesh. Thus alone are we made to realize our full responsibility in every failure. So provided, we can never plead the power of that which is against us, nor even the presence in us (true as that may be) of inherited sinfulness, — of a nature still adverse to divine things. We have still such a nature, — instincts that would betray us to the enemy, and lead us indefinitely far away from all that is of God and good; and whoever does not know this does not know himself. But to suppose, on the other hand, that nature compels to obedience to it, is to ignore that which makes man what he is. We may act contrary to our nature, as well as follow it; and in the case of our fallen nature are responsible to do so; he who excuses his sins by his nature cannot justify himself in the court of his own conscience as to one thing that he has ever done. The Spirit is not, in fact, hindered by our nature; and he who walks in the Spirit shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.

But what then? Does not this lead to a doctrine of perfection such as in various forms is held by so many Christians in our day? It does indeed set perfection before us; as does the apostle here. It allows no toleration of any practice short of this, even though explicit in its acknowledgment of an evil nature in us. Nor are there two levels permitted to us as Christians; so that, as some put it, to an imperfect man, of damaged moral powers, the law of Christ, in contrast with the law of Moses, requires no faultlessness, but only "perfect," that is, pure "love to God through Christ." No, Christ Himself, the highest and most perfect standard possible, is the one only standard for every Christian: "He who saith that he abideth in Him ought himself also to walk even as He walked" (1 John 2:6).

Yet who is there then who has attained this? Let Christian perfection be put only as Scripture puts it, as the full, perfect walk of Christ Himself, who will step forth and claim to have attained this? Could we find one that did so, how would the common consent of Christians regard such a claim? Rightly as we judge ourselves for all shortcoming, yet, alas, we do come short; and we must neither lower the standard, nor plead a damaged moral nature to excuse ourselves.

The sanctification of which the apostle speaks here is, of course, that practical devotedness of life and walk to God which continually develops with the expansion of spiritual intelligence in the things of God. There is another that underlies it as the blood underlay the oil in the priestly anointing. Of this the epistle to the Hebrews speaks. We are set apart to God by the blood of Christ, as those made His by that which has purged us from our sins to serve the living God. Only on the basis of this can we be set apart, then, for this service. Besides this we must have a new nature as in new birth, and the indwelling of the Spirit of God, that there may be freedom and power. Of this last the epistle to the Romans speaks (Rom. 7, 8). Here it is the setting apart in detail of the whole man, in all his practical life, that the apostle prays for in behalf of the Thessalonians.

It is the God of peace whom he prays to sanctify them wholly, — the God to whom peace essentially belongs, as absolutely supreme, — incapable of being disturbed by that which, while it may even rage against Him, is yet entirely under His control, and made to serve and carry out His everlasting purpose. But He is the God of peace also as the Maker of it; to be with whom is to have all things thus at peace with us, — nay, working together for good: "if God be for us, who can be against us?" — which may indeed seem almost the opposite of the truth in a hostile world, and with the Cross the banner under which we are gathered. Faith, however, is in the invisible, and waits for its full and glorious justification at a future time; patience must have its perfect work, though in having this we are made perfect and entire, lacking in nothing (James 1:4). The Cross is the token of the world's enmity, but of God for us, and revealed as the God of peace, through Him who has made peace for us by the blood of His cross. In this way we are at once reconciled and sanctified: the God of peace sanctifies us through the peace that He has made for us through the work of His Son. That peace, accepted and enjoyed, makes us His in the inmost depths of our being; and becomes thus in result a peace with Him which is the reconciliation to Him of all our faculties.

Yet there are hindrances in us, and in the world around us, which call for the rousing of all our energies to overcome them. From these we need to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling, while it is God who worketh in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure. It is a conflict in which the help of the might of God is needed, even against ourselves. So the apostle mingles together prayer and exhortation here.

The prayer in its first part is that God would sanctify them wholly; the last word being one which refers to final condition, — holoteleis, all-perfectly, or all-maturely. He adds to this, "and may your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." The word for "whole" here is holokleron, and is expressive of quantity, as the former word of quality. Every faculty of spirit, soul and body comes into the idea: no part is omitted in his desire for them. Spirit and soul and body make up the man. All that pertains to these — every faculty — he prays may be kept blameless (here the quality of the keeping is expressed) in the power of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. A suited word with which to close an epistle which has been so much occupied with the thought of this coming, the goal of Christian hope. It is hope that encourages endurance; while we must remember the solemn reality of account to be given in His presence of what has been the course here. A slavish fear would be indeed an unsuitable accompaniment of the thought of His coming who will at that very time manifest for us the fulness of His salvation in bringing us into full likeness to Himself; but the thought of account given at such a time to such a Saviour can have nothing but sanctifying power for the soul.

Spirit and soul and body are His alike: we owe Him all; and Paul names them all to claim them all for Him. They are the constituent parts that make up man; and it should be clear, as it is consistent also with all other scripture, that man is thus defined as a tri-unity which proclaims his link with all creation, and himself the uniting centre of all. The vegetable takes up the dust of the earth, to inspire it with a living principle which raises it above itself, and becomes in it a principle of organization, — a prophecy of what various forms to come!

The animal follows the vegetable; and here there is not only life, but a living soul; and with this, organization is carried further; sensation appears, and voluntary motion; the vegetable functions are retained, but developed further, and perfected; with the type also of bodily structure, though the bodily form may still receive further development.

And now the crown is put upon the arch: the union of all lower existences with the higher nature of the angel is accomplished in man; in whom spirit is added to soul, and the image of God is in this way reached. I may repeat here what I have said elsewhere, that —

"Here an evolution there is, and a true one, not what has usurped its name; an 'unfolding' of a divine plan, in which there is, of course, progress and development, upon principles which are uniform throughout. Looking at organic being, we have three stages of progress clearly marked off from one another; the vegetable; the animal, which (in Gen. 1) is marked off as a new 'creation;' man, just as distinctly from the mere animal, as a creation also.

"Each of these contains what has preceded it, with an addition … There is economy of design, which at the same time gives unity to the whole; while there is advance on the part of that also in which this unity is shown. The mineral absorbed into the vegetable can scarcely be recognized any more as mineral; and it is worked up into still higher forms as the 'flesh' of animal and of man. The life of the vegetable is in the animal so characterized by the soul with which it is now united, that 'soul' and life become, in one aspect of soul, but equivalent terms. While the animal soul becomes again in man possessed of higher faculties than it ever had in the animal, and thus the fit companion and help-meet of the spirit.

"Not only so: we can go even beyond this as led of the blessed book which God has given us, and after the present life see a similar advance made still. For, as soon as he leaves the body, the saint, though still having soul, is now spoken of (as never while in the body) as a 'spirit;' and when he takes up the body again, this is now no longer a 'natural' — which is, literally, a 'psychical' body (a body characterized by the soul, or psyche) — but a spiritual body, (a body characterized by the governing spirit,) the body of the resurrection.

"Here is development, then, all along the line: of that there can be no question. God evolves (or unfolds) in this way the wondrous possibilities which lie wrapped up in what He has first produced. Here is true evolution, not the false thing of the evolutionist; but how is it accomplished? Is the soul developed out of the life of the plant? or the spirit developed out of the soul of the animal? Not so according to Scripture: at each step God must come in, and does; soul and spirit are separate creations. And how does the mineral rise into the plant structure? or this into the body of the animal? or the soul develop in man spiritual characters unknown in the animal? The answer of Scripture is, they do not raise themselves; they are raised: the development is in each case accomplished by the descent (if we may say so,) of a higher principle to unite itself to the lower. The lower is raised by the humbling of the higher to it, and the shadow of Christ is here already unmistakably seen in nature: the seal is set upon this method as divine.

"We need not wonder: 'all things were created by Him, and for Him,' and this is His stamp on what He would approve to us as current money in the realm of thought. Why should not the figure of the King appear on what is His? So is all nature, in fact, a witness for Him, a glorious interweaving of spiritual parables, which, if we had more ability to read them, would indeed transfigure the visible with the brightness of the unseen."

Scripture distinctly teaches in spirit, soul, and body a tri-unity of man. Spirit is that which makes him what an angel is, a son of God, and in his Father's image: for God is the Father of spirits (Heb. 12:9). To have said, "Father of souls" would have made Him Father of the beasts: for the beast is, as well as man, a "living soul," and that because a living soul is in it (Gen. 1:30). The common version of our Bible obscures the last passage by rendering "life" instead of "living soul," which it puts, however, in the margin; of course, a "living life" would have no sense. In other passages the word is uniformly translated "creature" (or once, "thing,") when applied to the beast: a meaning which does not belong to it. Yet the corresponding Greek word (psuche) is rightly rendered "souls," (in Rev. 8:9; Rev. 16:3,) where certainly animals are spoken of.

On the other hand, "spirit" is never ascribed to the beast in Scripture, except it be once in Ecc. 3:21, where the Septuagint and Targums are against it, and where, at any rate, we have the mere questioning of one seeking by human reasoning to penetrate where revelation alone is competent to lead, the result being that he is left in utter perplexity. This is the very theme of Ecclesiastes, the insufficiency of human reason, as in Job the failure of human righteousness.

The spirit of man, as we are told by the apostle, is that by which alone human things are known; and thus it is the essential characteristic of man in the terrestrial creation. It is identified in Scripture with mind or understanding, and thus with moral as well as mental judgment; which certainly the beast has not. The attempt of the materialist therefore to make it only the breath of life which is in the nostrils, founded as it is upon the identity of the word for breath and spirit in both Greek and Hebrew, may be dismissed as the uttermost folly of a puerile imagination; which indeed we need but the passage before us to set aside: for what could be meant by the sanctification of the "breath of life?"

The soul, on the other hand, is, according to the same word of inspiration, the seat of the emotions, affections, desires, appetites, the link between the spirit and the body, and so practically at least the life of the body. In man it links itself with his higher nature, and is permeated with the light of human intelligence, sharing with the spirit immortality. Yet apart from this it characterizes, as is evident, the instinctive, appetite-governed life of the beast; to which indeed fallen man may in measure sink down: the natural man is just the "psychic" or sensual, "soul-governed" man. with an awful shadow over him as that, which the beast has not: that, for him, being degradation, which in the beast is its unfallen nature (1 Cor. 2:14, Gk.).*

{*See, as to this whole subject, "Facts and Theories as to a Future State," Part 1. ch. 2, 4-6.}

The devotion (as we ordinarily say) of the whole man to God is thus the measure of practical sanctification. Nor is this asceticism, or real self-denial even; except as there is indeed in us still an old self, which for the true Christian has lost its authority. A life to God is what is really life, with all the power and joy of spiritual vigor in it; and to seek to hold back any part of our being from this, is to prefer death to life, mutilation to complete, all-round capacity. Who that can be called Christian can deny this? Asceticism is an affront to God, — is itself a crippling of powers that belong to Him; to live to God is to live in no convent gloom, but in the full brightness of unhindered glory, — in His light to see light. It is in the joy of the Lord alone that strength is found to serve Him in whose presence is fulness of joy, and at whose right hand are pleasures for evermore. The coming of the Lord Jesus is that which will introduce us into the perfect blessedness of this; and so in the power of this hope shall we be preserved blameless on the way to this consummation of eternal happiness.

Yet the apostle's hope is in Him whose purpose as to His people cannot fail. "Faithful is He who calleth you, who also will do it." We are upon the shoulders of the Good Shepherd; and if there were final failure, it would be His strength that failed. That would be as impossible for Him, as for us without Him success would be impossible.

The apostle speaks in the consciousness of his own need. He, so much above us all in knowledge and in devotedness, is nevertheless conscious of the help derived from the prayers of his brethren. He would have them also greet one another with the warm and open expression of Christian love. He is earnest that all should hear the epistle he had written to them (assured as he was of who was, in fact, the Writer of it) and not simply to leaders as the depositories of truth, the comfort and responsibility of which belonged to all alike. Nor, where inspired Scripture was in question, were the mass called to "hear the Church," but the Church rather to hear the apostles. Thus he adjures them by the Lord that all should hear.

He closes with the usual valediction, that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ might be with them.