Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 310 - January 1882
Thus far for the ministry of . Paul and his companions. Now he turns to the means God had used for the blessing of the saints by that ministry.
"And1 for this cause we also thank God unceasingly that, when ye received [the] word of [the] report from us of God, ye accepted not men's word, but as it is truly God's word, 'which also worketh in you that believe. For ye, brethren, became imitators of the assemblies of God that are in Judaea in Christ Jesus; for ye also suffered the same things of your own countrymen, even as they also of the Jews, who both killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out, and please not God, and [are] contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved; to fill up their sins always; bat the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost" (Ver. 18-16).
Man as he is naturally lives without God, acted on by the things he sees around him, a prey to the desires of the flesh and of the mind. In order to a spiritual link with God he needs a revelation from Him; and God is now sending this in the glad tidings concerning His Son, that men may believe and be saved. Thus does the soul know God, and Jesus Christ whom He did send, and this is life eternal. By faith he begins to feel and think according to God; and faith is the reception of a divine testimony. Thereby he sets to his seal that God is true. The word of God mixed with faith puts into immediate association with God.
In apostolic days Paul, as here, was an instrument to convey God's word in his preaching; and this, by divine power, without admixture of error. So it is in the Scriptures, which as being inspired of God exclude mistake. Hence, while they are of the richest value as a medium of communicating the truth, they have their special and indeed unique function as being the divinely given standard to try every word and work.
Not only, then, had the Apostle laboured in the power of the Holy Ghost and in a way suitable to the beginning and growth of those who were the objects of his ministry but it was not in vain. ' There were sweet and manifest fruits in God's grace. "And for this cause we also thank God unceasingly, that, when ye received the word of the report from us of God, ye accepted not men's word, but as it is truly God's word, which also worketh in you that believe." It is always a true effect of God's gracious power when souls in a hostile world receive His testimony, however perfectly His word meets the cravings of the heart and presents the blood of Christ to purify the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. There is a constant network for men to hold them fast in Satan's hand; and the truth, as being God's word, judges the thoughts and intents of the heart. It was yet more trying when the truth was as novel as it must ever be opposed to human will and reasoning. When many profess it, the reproach to a great extent disappears, though God does not fail to counteract Satan's wiles, who would thus destroy the power by making the form cheap and common. To the Thessalonians, as indeed to every Gentile then, the word reported was a new thing. But it was " of God," and so they proved it. "Ye accepted not men's word, but as it is truly God's word." The heart bowed to God, and the word also wrought by the Spirit of God its own divine effects in those subject to it by faith.
The Jewish matron was true to the instincts of humanity and the traditions of her race, when she saw the Messiah casting out demons and heard Him warning of a worse power of the enemy those who still sought a sign from heaven: out of the crowd she cried, " Blessed is the womb that bare Thee, and the breasts that Thou didst suck." The gospel renders it plain and certain that it is no question of a relationship after the flesh, but of the authority and blessing of the divine word, and thus as open to the Gentile as to the Jew. To believe it is the obedience of faith. It is to be in living association with God.
The word wielded by the Spirit and received as of God thus separates to Him, and is indeed exactly what is called "sanctification of the Spirit" in 1 Pet. i. 2: not in the practical sense (which follows in Ver. 15, 16 as well as elsewhere), but in principle and absolutely, that setting apart to God from the beginning which constitutes a saint (see 1 Cor. vi. 11). Hence it precedes the knowledge of forgiveness or the possession of peace with God; as Peter says, in (or by) sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. Here nothing but prejudice would have hindered believers seeing that obedience is not merely faith-obedience, but practical. Now sanctification in the ordinary sense cannot be said to be for or "unto obedience," seeing that it very largely consists of obedience, and cannot exist without it; but sanctification of the Spirit as here spoken of is for (εἰς) obedience, and such as Christ's in contrast with a mere Israelite's. It is also for "sprinkling with His blood," fur the new life or divine nature in the saint wishes to obey God even before it knows the efficacy of His blood in a purged conscience; and hence the perfect order of the words in the phrase.
The want of seeing this has greatly embarrassed the commentators, and has even led to positive falsification, as in Beza's Latin Version and the Geneva English Version, which render the clause unto (ἐν) sanctification of the Spirit through (εἰς) obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ! This is to sacrifice, not grammar merely, but God's word to a defective system of theology, which only acknowledges the sanctification that is consequent on justification, and ignores that primary setting of the person apart to God by the Spirit, which is true of every saint from his conversion, when he may not yet rest by faith in Christ's blood. Erasmus, though perplexed, is nearer the truth than the Vulgate followed by the Rhemish, which yields no just sense whatever. Archbishop Leighton is one of the few who saw that sanctification here does not mean inherent, gradual, or practical holiness, but that work of the Spirit which from first to last separates from nature and the world to God (compare 2 Thess. ii. 18).
The same spiritual cause produced kindred effects. All are not Israelites, neither are they Cretans; and the flesh in all, if unjudged, affords a ready occasion to the enemy who presents snares suited to beguile each. But the Holy Spirit forma by the image of Christ, presented in God's word, which is effectual not only to beget souls to God, but to clear, correct, instruct, reprove, and in every way discipline, as well as cheer on, the believer. Of this the Apostle reminds the Thessalonians. "For ye, brethren, became imitators of the assemblies of God that are in Judaea in Christ Jesus." Difference of race, contrast as to previous habits of religion, cannot hinder the power of grace and truth. The Thessalonians followed in the same path of suffering and endurance as the Jewish assemblies in Christ Jesus. There the flame of persecution burnt fiercely against the companies that bore the name of Him whom they had crucified. It was not otherwise for the Thessalonian saints from their own countrymen.
There is no such hatred as that embittered by difference in religion, and especially where the claim is exclusive and divine. The gospel gave occasion to this in its most concentrated form; for pit first bad to make its way where God had really given peculiar privileges, which it was quite right to maintain in all their value as long as He owned the people to whom He had given them. But the Jewish people slighted and abandoned them, killing the prophets who pressed their infidelity and apostasy on their consciences, as they crowned their guilt when outward forms seemed orderly, but real unbelief and enmity to God were laid bare, by the ignominious rejection and death of their own Messiah. But evil is insatiable; and even the cross only whetted their rancour against the witnesses of divine grace. They "drove us out."
For the possessors of law are provoked to madness by the preaching of grace, which makes little of any earthly privileges whatever, and insists on the ruin of the Jew as much as of the Gentile. Hence the Jew's undying hatred of the gospel. It were bad enough to hear a testimony as much above and deeper than the' law as Christ is greater than Moses, and the difference is really immeasurable. But to proclaim its incomparable blessings in Christ so as to obliterate all distinction, and to bring the believer, Jew or Gentile alike, into a new place of heavenly relationship and of everlasting favour, is intolerable. This, then, was necessarily the final dealing of God, as far as Israel's responsibility was concerned. All hope for the nation on the earth was buried in the grave of Christ. They had a last appeal from the Holy Ghost in the gospel witnessing of Christ exalted to heaven; but they refused the message as much or more than the Person, above all when they saw others, yea, Gentiles, entering into the good which they had spurned for themselves.
Thus they "please not God, and [are] contrary to all men, forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, to fill up their sins always; but 'the wrath is come upon them to the uttermost." It might not yet be executed, but it impended, and no small part became their portion after the apostle passed away. Still it rests on the Jew, but it is not yet expended; and were the Jew to return to his land, to rebuild the city and the sanctuary, and to take possession as far as possible of his ancient heritage, it would be but a deadly delusion and a satanic snare, bringing on them first Antichrist, then the trouble from the Assyrian, and finally the Lord Himself in unsparing vengeance, however mercy may in the end rejoice against judgment. As, however, the Apostle does not lift the veil of the future, as in Rom. xi., from their prospects, but returns to the new relations of grace, the common joy of himself and the Thessalonian saints, we too follow the line of the Holy Spirit.
"But we, brethren, being bereaved of you for a little season [lit, of an hour], in person, not in heart, made more exceeding diligence to see your face with much desire. Wherefore2 we desired to come unto you, I, Paul, both once and twice, and Satan hindered us. For what [is] our hope, or joy, or crown of glorying? [Are] not even ye before our Lord Jesus3 at His coming? For ye are our glory and joy" (Ver. 17-19).
Doubtless, if Christianity gives the deepest importance to the individual with God, the assembly affords the largest scope to the affections of the members of Christ as His one body. And Satan hinders in all possible ways the happy interchange of what is so sweet and holy, the mind and love of "heaven enjoyed among saints on earth. The presence of 'each other, above all of such an one as Paul, what a difference it makes! Still the Apostle had been introducing that which ought to correct any undue moment given to bodily presence. Had he not been showing the all-importance of God's word, and how effective it is in the hand of grace? Absence, therefore, is in no way fatal to the saints' joy and blessing. Waiting but exercises faith, and should increase the longing desire, which after all was stronger in Paul than in his Thessalonian children; how much in Him whose patient, waiting is perfect as His love to us! Thus does he bind their hears with his own (and may it be tree of us also!) in the joy of Christ's presence at His coming. Then will be the true rest from labour, then the enjoyment of the fruits without alloy or danger. May we find ourselves habitually thus looking onward from present hindrances to that blessed and everlasting scene!
(To be continued.)
1) "And," omitted in Text. Rec., has the highest but not large authority.
2) The right reading is διότι,, not διό of the Text. Res., though the sense differs little.
3) "Christ" is added din the Text. Rec., but does not appear in the in the best MMS. and Versions.