Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 326 - July 1883
2 Thessalonians 2:13-14
With a retribution so terrible yet so righteous on apostate enemies, the apostle puts in contrast the assured portion of the believers to whom he writes.
"But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved of [the] Lord, that God chose you from [the] beginning1 unto salvation in sanctification of [the] Spirit and belief of [the] truth; whereunto2 he called you by our gospel unto obtaining of [the] glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Verses 13, 14.)
The manifested character and awful doom of those who abandoned the truth when most fully brought out had been laid before us. Now we are told of the simple blessedness of those who cleave to the grace of our Lord in the gospel, and its effect upon the heart of those who wrought in the work, and were sharers in the blessing. It were a poor ground of thanksgiving if the salvation were precarious; but this is quite to mistake the nature of Christianity, which is founded on the glory of Christ's person and on the everlasting efficacy of His atoning work. Hence on the one hand the unspeakable guilt of rejecting, and above all of apostatizing from it; as on the other hand the blessedness and security of those who enter in by faith. Peace, joy, thanksgiving are the fruit of the love of God thus shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost given unto us. And no wonder; it is God's own joy and love flowing in and out of hearts, all round, purified by faith. Doubts and fears are not of faith any more than the presumption founded upon our own estimate of ourselves, the natural effect of law acting upon the human mind for despair or false confidence. Christ and His work of redemption alone give a true foundation before God, and as the foundation is immutable, so with faith there need be hesitation neither in the channels nor in the objects of this grace, as we see here. "But we ought to give thanks to God for you always, brethren beloved of the Lord." This is not the unbelieving language of man. Divine love reproduced in the believer's heart delights in. owning the present fruits of grace. There is no reserve where no such mischief was at work as called it forth. Had there been the admission of human righteousness or going back to ordinances, as we see in the Epistles to the Galatians, Colossians, and Hebrews, the apostle would have solemnly warned and even spoken conditionally; for there the Spirit of God descried real actual and growing danger. Here, where there was simplicity, there was no call for such guarded language. As the workmen were bound to give thanks always to God for them, so the saints are designated as brethren beloved of the Lord. What honour, what happiness, unsullied by suspicion or question on either side?
For what then do the apostle and those with him so continually thank God? That God chose the Thessalonians from the beginning unto salvation. The context appears to decide that "from the beginning" must be interpreted in the largest sense, not merely from the beginning of the gospel or of Christ's manifestation on earth, but from of old, from everlasting. "Chose," too, is somewhat peculiar here, not so much chose out from others as chose for Himself, a Septuagintal usage. This is sweet and comforting to a believer whom true repentance has made nothing in his own eyes; if nature take it up, it turns to pride and hardness without a drop of real consolation.
But the way in which God's choice operates in time is next shown with brevity and clearness, " in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." Here I conceive there cannot be a doubt that sanctification of the Spirit means, that mighty separative act of the Holy Ghost, by which a soul is first livingly set apart to God; and so it is accompanied by faith of the truth. Practical holiness is the consequence, and this we have seen insisted on in 1 These. iv. 3, 7, v. 23. Here it is rather the great principle and power which accompanies conversion to God, so generally overlooked in Christendom, or, if the thing be seen and owned more or less, not called by its true name. It is that operation which meets a man when a sinner, and by grace constitutes him a saint. People are willing to allow it afterwards in practice, but are afraid to own its truth at the starting point. They are too far from God, too unbelieving in the energy of His grace and the wisdom of His means, to accredit His work in the soul, which, however deep, has as yet little to show for itself before men. But there is belief of the truth; and confession of the Lord, of course, accompanies this. There may, however, be at that stage many a difficulty and much searching of heart, which the Lord turns to real and permanent account, though not a little, especially in our day, as in special circumstances of old, may be due to legal bondage. Still grace gives confidence, that the light of God may thoroughly search the heart, and if Christ be kept in view, the more it is searched the better. If Christ be shrouded by the law-work in the soul, there cannot as yet be peace but distress, as in the latter part of Romans vii.. The person, however, is no less a saint then, than when set free by the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus, as in Romans viii. 2, though the latter alone describes the proper condition of a christian. Practical holiness follows in the exhortation of Romans xii., &c.
1 Peter i. 2 helps greatly to fix the sense, not only here but in 1 Cor. vi., where sanctification follows washing, and precedes justification. This every theologian must know is quite outside the ordinary systems . of divinity. There is no question here of sanctification in the practical life after justification, which all admit and insist on; but the theological systems omit the very important bearing in Scripture, and therefore to real faith, of sanctification before justification. Of that fundamental preliminary work it really cannot be pretended they know anything; nor is it pressed in the pulpits of great men or of small, being ignored popularly no less than theologically. The truth in fact has dropped through, and from every school, ancient or modern, Calvinist or Arminian. Hence the difficulty both for Roman Catholics and for Protestants. The Vulgate gives "in sanctifιcatiοnem Spiritus, ad" &c., which the Rhemish version (1582) reproduces "into sanctification of the Spirit, unto the obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ," as the Geneva version (1557) had yet farther strayed, in saying "unto sanctification of the sprite, through obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." No doubt it was the influence of Τhéodοre de Bèze, which acted so banefully on the English exiles; for he in his just preceding version had ventured to translate "ad sanctificationem Spiritus, per obedientiam et aspersionem sanguinis Ι. C." and even fir argue for this perversion in the notes of his Subsequent editions. I have not the first edition of 1556 (R. Steph. Gen.) to see whether his annotations even then wore so audacious; but in his Greek and Latin New Testament of 1565, as later, he boldly says, "Ad sαnιετficatίοnem Spiritus, ἑν ἀγίασμῷ πυ εὐματος. Id est εἰς ἁγ Erasmus, Per sanctificationem Spiritus nom satis apposite. Per οbedientiam, εἱς ὑπακοήν. Id est δι’ ὑπακοῆς, &c." Now it was not ignorance of either Latin or Greek which led the French Reformer into these stupendous misrenderings; it was a defective though presumptuous theological system which still exercises a similar tyranny over men's minds. For learned or unlearned, they go to Scripture, not to learn in simplicity what God has there revealed to His children,, but to get proofs if they can of tenets they have imbibed from the nursery, and never think of bringing to the absolute test of the Scriptural standard. Thus it is plain that the prevalent error as to sanctification led Beza, who assumed it to be the truth, to change the force of the inspired . words doubly. Erasmus may not have hit the mark in "per sauctificationem Spiritus," but he is incomparably nearer than his critic. For ἐν must often be and is rightly rendered "by" or "with," not " through " like δυi as agency or means, but expressing a characteristic cause or abiding state, where "in" would scarcely suffice or suit. It is therefore a question here between " by" or "in"; but" to "or" "unto" is positively and inexcusably false, and never can be in such a context the meaning of ἐν. In contrast with Israel set apart by an outward rite for obeying God's law under the solemn sanction of the victim's blood, which sprinkled both the book and the people, and so held death before them as the penalty of transgression, the believing Jews are addressed as elect according to the knowledge of God the Father, by (or in) sanctification of the Spirit, for the obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus, i.e. for obeying as sons of God (so Jesus did in the highest way), and as freed from their guilt by His blood. Hence εἰς ὑπακοὴν καὶ ῥ.. is perfectly regular and beautifully true, as indicating the blessed object in constant view to which the Christian is set apart by the Holy Spirit, to obey not as an Israelite under legal bondage and with death as the penalty of failure, but in the liberty of Christ whose blood cleanses him from all sin. By the obedience and blood of Jesus may suit Protestant Confessions of faith, but it is a painful inversion of the apostle's language; as to say εἰς=δι’ ὑπ’.. is unworthy of a scholar far beneath the erudite and able successor of Calvin. But all this shows that the sanctification of the Spirit here in question describes that vital work in separating a soul to God when born again, which is followed by justification when the soul submits to the righteousness of God in Christ, as practical holiness is the issue in the consequent walk.
But God's secret power in the Spirit's separation to Himself is not all. That there should be sanctification and belief of the truth He uses means and calls by the gospel; or as it is here said, "whereunto He called you through our gospel to the obtaining of the glory of cur Lord Jesus Christ."
Thus, if we have God's purpose in Himself before time, we have the object He proposed as to the saints for eternity. He chose them from the beginning unto salvation. This He effectuated in time for the saints in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, not by a law curbing the lusts and passions of a fleshly people under the elements of the world. For God will not now own aught less than inward reality in subjection to His own revealed mind. And what He employs to produce this holy result is the gospel as preached by Paul and those with him. For, while the gospel is of God and concerning His Son, none the less was our apostle the most honoured instrument of His grace in bringing out its full character as well as its deep foundations. All the apostles preached it, and Peter with especial success in acting on thousands from the first. But Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, not only preached with unprecedented fulness the glad tidings of the unsearchable riches of Christ, but entrusted directly and indirectly the truth as he knew it to faithful men, such as were competent to instruct others also.
And then the end, how high and holy as well as excellent! How worthy of God and suitable for His children! It was not merely to obtain glory, but "to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." As He is the One in whom all the divine counsels centre for the display of His own excellency, so would His grace have us who now believe to share it with Him. "If children, then heirs; heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with, that we may be also glorified together."
1) It is instructive to weigh the alternative "as firstfruits" instead of "from the beginning" given by the Revisers on the authority of "many ancient authorities." Indeed, an editor no less celebrated than Lachman adopted it as the true text in his early as well as his later editions. It differs from that which is generally accepted by but one letter and is supported by the famous Vatican (B) 1209, the Cambridge (F), the Greek of Boerner's uncial now in Dresden (G) (independent copies probably of an older archetype), and the Porphyrian palimpsest, seven cursives, the Vulgate and the later or Philoxenian Syriac with several Greek and Latin ecclesiastical writers; as against א D Ε Κ L (Alford leaving out E, and adding Α which is not legible), the mass of cursives, Syr. Pesh., Memph., Arm., Aeth. with Greek and Latin early citations.
And Tischendorf was carried away so as to give ἀπαρχήν in his first edition (Lipsiae, 1841), as well as in the New Test. Greek and Latin, and the smaller Greek text dedicated to Guizot (both of Paris, 1842); but corrected the error in his second of Leipzig (1849) and ever since. I say "error"; for the expression is at issue with the surest facts. Of what could the Thessalonian saints be first fruits? Not even of Macedonia, the Philippians being earlier. Hence the statement is the more untenable, as the phrase is not even thus qualified, and no agreement of the ancient witnesses could have justified it, for it is opposed to truth. But we learn thereby to estimate more justly the facts, (1) that documents of the highest value may be egregiously wrong, through a clerical slip probably; and (2) that editors of the highest repute are liable to be misled, partly through overweening confidence in favourite witnesses, like the Vatican in combination with the Vulgate, partly through the natural love of originality, or rejection of what is. common.
2) Tischendorf follows א F G P, &c., in adding καί "also" as Lachmann reads "us" for "you," with A B D pm &c., both, in my judgment, to the detriment of the force and beauty of text.