Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 336 - May 1884
From those who had been within, now so solemnly delivered over to Satan, the apostle turns to our relationships with those outside, especially such as are in authority.
"I exhort therefore, first of all, that supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, be made for all men, for kings and all that are in high rank, that we may lead a quiet and peaceful life in all piety and gravity. 1For this (is) good and acceptable before our Saviour God who desireth, that all men should be saved and come unto full knowledge of truth" (ver. 1-4). It is not here the counsels of God in all their immense extent and heavenly glory, but rather what is consistent with the nature of God revealed in Christ and published everywhere by the gospel. Such is the character of our epistle, and the ground on which the apostle insists upon a spirit of peace on the one, hand and godly order on the other. In accordance with this he exhorts that the saints should be marked by a desire of blessing for all mankind: the very reverse of that proud austerity which the heathen bitterly resented in the later Jews. It was the more important to press this gracious attitude, inasmuch as it is of the very essence of the church to stand in holy separateness from the world, as a chaste virgin espoused to Christ. With light or harsh minds this separation easily degenerates into a sour self-complacency; which repels from, instead of attracting to, Him whose rights over all it is the prime duty of the church to assert, whose glory and whose grace ought to fill every mouth and heart within. From a misuse of his privileges a Jew was ever in danger of scorning the Gentile, and not least those in high place, with a bitter contempt for such of their brethren as served the Gentile in the exaction of tribute, the sign of their own humiliation. In their national ruin they had more than all the pride of their prosperity, and judged their heathen masters with a sternness ill-suited to those who had lost their position, for a time at least, through their constant yielding to the worst sins of the Gentiles.
The christian is in no less danger. F οr on the one hand he is entrusted with a testimony of truth far beyond what the Jew had; and, on the other, his separation does not consist so much in external forms. Hence he is in continual danger of making good separation to God, not in the power of the Holy Ghost in truth and love among those who cleave to the Lord, but in peculiar abstinences and prohibitions, in an effort to differ from others, and so in the claim of superiority for themselves. This evidently exposes the unwary to self-deception, as it tends to build up that which is as far as possible from the mind of Christ. A bitter though unconscious sectarianism.
Here we see how the Spirit of God guards the saints, so that their separation however holy, may savour of God's grace and not of man's pride. Supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings, are to be made for all men. It is not only that they ought always to pray and not to faint; nor again that they should only pray for all saints and especially for those identified with the testimony of Christ. But here we find an exhortation to every variety of prayer on the broad basis of God's relationship with all mankind. The saints have to answer to this if they would not be false to the truth. They, too, have a corresponding relation. The very gospel by which they were saved should remind them of it; for if the church in its union with Christ, or rather if Christ and the church, be the special witness of divine counsels, the gospel is no less the standing witness of God's grace to the world. The saints therefore, knowing both, are responsible to bear a true testimony to the one no less than the other. And in practice it will be found that exaggeration in one tends not only to lose the other, but to corrupt that which becomes the exclusive object. For Christ is the truth; neither the gospel nor the church has a right to our love undividedly, but both in subjection to Christ. And we are called to bear witness to "the" truth as we are sanctified (not by this or by that truth, but) by the truth.
Such is the danger to-day as it was of old. Saints like other men are apt to be one-sided. It looks spiritual to choose the highest line and stand on the highest point, and fancy oneself to be safe in that heavenly elevation. On the other hand, it seems loving to steer clear of the church question so constantly abused to gratify ambition if not spite and jealousy (and thus scattering saints instead of uniting them holily around the Lord's name), and to devote all one's energies, in the present broken state of Christendom, to the good news which wins souls to God from destruction. But this is to surrender the nearest circle of Christ's affections and honour. The only course that is right, holy, and faithful, is tο hold to all that is precious in His eyes—to love the church with all its consequences on the one hand, and on the other to go out to all mankind in the grace that would reflect the light of a Saviour God. As in Ephesians and Colossians the former truth is most prominent, so here is the latter. Let us seek to walk in both.
The Authorised Version wrongly connects "first of all" with the making supplications, &c., as both the Syriac, Chrysostom, Theophylact, Erasmus, Luther, Calvin, Estius, Bengel, &c. So had Tyndale, Cranmer, and the Geneva; not Wiclif nor the Rhemish (cleaving as usual to the Vulgate), nor Beza. For the apostle means that he thus exhorts, as first of all in his mind for his present purpose. The exhortation had a great importance in his eyes who would have God's character of grace truly presented in the public as well as private intercourse of the saints with Himself. The God who gave His own Son to die for sinners in divine judgment of sin could not be taxed with slighting sins, whether of corruption or of violence; but O the love of Him who gave His Son to die for sinners that they might be saved through faith in Him! Therefore does His servant first of all exhort to make supplications, prayers, intercessions, thanksgivings for all men, but specifying "for kings and all that are in high rank." So the godly in Israel had prayed for the city which chastised them for their sins, and sought its peace; whereas the false were habitually rebellious, save for occasional gain or other selfish ends. But now that God had fully shown Himself out in Christ, what became His saints in presence of all men, and especially of sovereigns and rulers? The continual going forth of earnest love on behalf of all men, for which they should ever be free who are delivered from dread of evil and a bad conscience, who are peaceful and happy in their own near relationship with God as His children, who can therefore feel truly and deeply for all that are far off in unremoved death and darkness, and as ignorant of their own real misery as of the blessed God Himself. The exalted place of those in authority would only make such the more especial objects of loving desire, that sovereign goodness might control them and their officials, in order that the saints might lead a quiet and tranquil life in all piety.
The reader will notice the abundance and variety in the expression of the saints' prayers. "Supplication" implies earnestness in pressing the suit of need; "prayer" is more general and puts forward our wishes; "intercession" means the exercise of free and confiding intercourse, whether for ourselves or for others; and "thanksgiving" tells out the heart's sense of favour bestowed or counted on. Of all interpretations perhaps the most singular is in Angustine's Epistle to Paulinus (cxlix. Migne), where the four words are assigned to the several parts of the communion service. Witsius, on the Lord's prayer, is nearer the mark than any other I have noticed. From first to last the terms bespeak the overflowing charity of the saints who know in God a love superior to evil, and withal never indifferent to it or making light of it, (which is Satan's substitute), a Father who makes His sun rise on evil and good, and sends rain on just and unjust. It is of all moment that the children keep up the family character, and that love should be in constant exercise to His praise. What can men think, feel, or do, abent such as love enemies and pray for those that use them despitefully? Paroxysms of persecution pass quickly, and the saints are let. live peacefully in all godliness and gravity; for nothing makes up for failure in piety before Gπd and a practically grave deportment before men.
"For this [is] good and acceptable before our Saviour God, who desireth that all men should be saved and come to full knowledge (or, acknowledgmerit) of the truth" (ver. 3, 4). The spirit of the gospel the apostle would have to permeate the conduct as well as the heart of the saint. Activity in goodness becomes those who know our Saviour God, Whose own heart goes out in compassion toward all men, not alone surely in present mercies without number, but also that they might be saved. This however cannot be unless they come to the knowledge of the truth. Hence the gospel is sent out to all the creation. Here human weakness, if it be not worse, betrays itself. Those who believe in the large grace God too often leave no room for His positive and living links of love with the elect, once children of wrath even as others. Those who are sure of the special nearness of God's family as often overlook, what is patent here and elsewhere all over scripture, that love which Christ made known personally and proved triumphantly in His cross, whereby it is free fn flow out in testimony to all the world. "Now is the Son of man glorified, and God is glorified in Him." Now that His character as Judge of sin is vindicated in the expiatory death of His own Son, His love can freely go out to men on the-express ground that they are ungodly, enemies, and powerless (Rom. v). He is both able and willing to save the vilest, but not without acknowledge of the truth. Therefore He commands all men everywhere to repent and believe the gospel; and the saints, while walking as members of the one body of Christ, are called to walk in love toward all and to testify the love that can save any by the faith of Christ. If men are lost, it is through their own will opposing the truth; it is not God's will, who, desiring their salvation, gave His Son and has now sent His own Spirit from heaven, that the glad tidings might be thus declared by them in the power of God, our Saviour.
1) The authority for omitting γάρ "for" js small but ancient—א A.17 67corr. Sah. Memph. Cyr. All others accept it.