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2 Thessalonians 2:15-17

Taken from The Bible Treasury Number 327 - August 1883

 

2 Thessalonians 2:15-17

It is remarkable how the thoughts of men cross the word of God when His grace is brought out as a living, believed, and applied reality. Speculative men wonder and judge after their puny way that the apostle should call the saints to steadfast adherence in ways and words to the truth, after he had just owned their calling of God to obtain the glory of our Lord. The mere mind of man regards this as logical inconsistency, conscious or not: why, reason they, should those elected to salvation be exhorted to aught more? Is not all sure and settled on divine grounds? But it is the elect, the consciously blessed and happy children of God, whom Scripture everywhere urges to vigilance and prayer, to reading the word of God and all other means of spiritual wellbeing; never do we find such calls to the unbelieving and the fearful. Those who owe all, and who own that all is due, to sovereign grace, are the very persons to show diligence in. their responsible services day by day. And how can this be known save by the revelation of His mind? If we are God's workmanship, we were created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God afore prepared that we should walk in them. To faith alone all is plain and sure. If Christ is believed on God's testimony we believe His love from first to last, and His word is a law of liberty to our souls. The reasoning that sets His grace at issue with our responsibility is seen at once to be of Satan. Subject to the word we believe both, go forward in peace, but acknowledge the need of all He lays on us.

"So then, brethren, stand firm and hold fast the traditions which ye were taught whether by word or by letter of ours. But our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, and God our Father, that loved us and gave everlasting encouragement and good hope through grace, encourage your hearts and stablish1 in every good work and word." (Ver. 15-17.)

There can not be asked a more conclusive disproof of that ecclesiastical consciousness (ἐκκλησιαστικὸν φρόνημα) which Dr. J. A. Moehler (Symbolik, xxxviii.) claims for the Romish body, as the true sense of tradition, than this verse 15 affords. For the peculiar sense existing in their midst and transmitted by ecclesiastical education, is a coloured light which misleads souls, not only involving but sealing them up in error, with so much the more self-security because they assume it to be the general faith of the church throughout all ages as against particular opinion, the judgment of the church as against that of the individual.

But this is a merely natural sentiment, such as pervades every department of human life; not only every nation having its own peculiar character imprinted on the most hidden parts of its being, as well as manifested in every relation, but each considerable society, religious or political, literary or scientific, having its own traditional and distinctive spirit, with which it strives to carry out its aims consistently.

To argue from such an analogy is to deny the reality of the church as a divine institution, and to sever the living link of each believer with God. The Holy Ghost sent down from heaven is the sole power of preserving intact both the individual relationship of, the Christian, and the common walk of the church. For if the church is God's temple (1 Cor. iii. 16, 17; 2 Cor. vi. 16), so is the body of every saint now (1 Cor. vi. 19); the presence of the Spirit makes good the privilege alike in either case. Undoubtedly His presence is productive of the most important and blessed results; but the church is no judge in matters of faith, still less is it infallible in interpreting the divine word or in aught else. The church is the lady, not the Lord, and is bound by her essential relationship to obedience as her prime and inalienable duty. Hence the Lord sent the apostles as His vicegerents, who, as need arose, made known His word and will to the church. They were the Lord's commandments, even when orally communicated; and they were in due time written by the apostles, though not all at once, but in fact as required. Let unbelievers if they will accuse scripture of deficiency or other faults. We believers know that it is adequate to make the man of God complete, furnished completely to every good work. What sort of logic is it that would attribute so perfect a result to imperfect means?

Never was it from the assembly that the word of God went forth, but from the Lord through servants extraordinarily chosen and endowed by divine power to that end. And the word came not to any particular assembly alone, but as of God binding on all that called on the Lord, whatever the special circumstances which drew it forth. Hence says the great apostle, "If any man thinketh himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge [or take knowledge of] the things that I write unto you, that they are the commandment of the Lord" (1 Cor. xiv. 37). If the apostles were authoritative envoys, it was the Lord's authority they imposed on the church, which was bound to unqualified subjection. His name is the all-important claim; theirs only as vouchers for it; the church being responsible simply to obey.

So when Paul wrote his first epistle to the Thessalonians, he adjured them by the Lord that it be read to all the (brethren, or holy) brethren. They were young in the Lord, having been not long converted and only enjoyed his instruction for a sufficiently brief season. Yet does divine wisdom see no ground for withholding from these babes in the truth a communication remarkable for its freedom in presenting some things hard to be understood, which the ignorant and ill-established wrest, as also the other scriptures, to their own destruction. On the contrary, and, perhaps because it was the first epistle written to the Gentiles, the inspired writer employs language of striking solemnity to impress on all the duty of hearing what he charges to be read to all.

And now again, in the second epistle, he says, " Accordingly then stand firm, and hold fast the traditions which ye were taught whether by word or by letter of ours" (Ver. 13). Beyond a doubt the delivered instructions embrace oral and epistolary teaching, and in no way allow an indefinite sense actuating powerfully but almost insensibly a community from age to age. The traditions which the apostle urges the church to hold fast were known and possessed truth (1 Cor. xi. '2), not at all scripture supplemented by a vague spiritual sense that would mould all by its intrinsic influence. The Romish idea is unknown to and excluded by scripture, which insists on the Lord originating and forming all that is His will by that word which the Spirit makes effectual in all His operations from quickening to the highest edification, and alike in worship and in service. For He is here in the individual saint, and in the assembly, to glorify Christ according to the Father's will. The theory of a dual rule of faith betrays its real character as a rival of scripture, and a rebel against God whose glory admits of no coordinate authority, such as its tradition cannot but assume to he. For this supposes defect in scripture, and claims, though human, nothing less than divine honour. A tradition you have not got and do not know is not only an absurd contradiction of the only true sense of tradition in scripture; but its assertion by Romanism exposes its votaries to the purely human traditions of the elders, which the Lord denounced as commandments of men which make void the word of God. In vain do such worship God; they honour Him with their lips, but their heart is far from Him. The word of God alone has an absolute title over the heart and conscience of His people.

It may be added that this in no way supercedes ministry. For the right exercise of every gift from Christ (and all real ministers are His gifts or δόματα to the church) is to bring the gracious authority of God as revealed in His word to bear in power on the soul. It is the enemy who would interpose between God and His children to whom His word addresses itself. For it is not so much a question of our right to His word, but far more of God's right to instruct and guide, correct and warn His own. And hence the great bulk of New Testament scripture is to the saints as such, not to chiefs like Timothy or Titus, though these two are not forgotten, as if they needed no special exhortation. True ministry will never enfeeble or deny God's rights by interposing itself or aught else between the conscience and God. Its appointed work is, as it always was, to help souls in their desire and duty to know the will of God. But when the causes of ruin so far wrought among the saints as to bring before the Holy Spirit the blinding power of corrupted Christendom, He more than ever insists on the value of scripture (not a word in the later epistles about the oral part of what was delivered,) as the intended safeguard in presence of men speaking perverse things, or of grievous wolves in sheep's clothing. Hence we are bound to test both ministerial dicta and church action by the word ever living and abiding. The denial of such a responsibility is Romanism in principle, wherever it may be, and this so real and thinly disguised as to deceive none but the victims of delusion. Just in proportion to the power of the Spirit which accompanies the preaching or teaching of Christ's servant, does the word neutralise extraneous influence of every kind, as well as judge and destroy hindrances from within. So the soul realises its immediate obligation to hear and obey God; accepting, not man's word, but as it truly is, God's word which also works in him that believes. On the one hand, when the professing body holds a form of godliness but denies its power, we are told to turn away, were it even in most favoured Ephesus; on the other hand, we are told in the same context to abide in the things we have learned and been assured of, knowing of whom they were learnt—from the apostle—in the fullest contrast with the vague latent tradition which worldly wisdom wants, as a sort of common law in Christendom. Not tradition, but the sacred writings as a whole are able to make wise unto salvation, not without but through faith which is in Christ Jesus. When the highest claim on earth, when the church, would be a snore, he that would here below stand firm for God's glory and will, is referred to every scripture as divinely inspired and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction that is in righteousness. Woe be to whatever comes between the soul and God, darkening, destroying, and denying that which alone has direct and paramount authority, as it must judge at the last day. It is that which we have "heard from the beginning": what comes in since has no divine authority, were it ever so ancient and venerable. God would guide His own, and uses ministry the rather to effect it, by His children's faith in His word.

The expression of thankfulness for the assured blessing of the Thessalonians, in contrast with the everlasting ruin of the apostates from Christ and Christianity, is followed up not only by an exhortation to stand firm in the truth of God given to them, but by a prayer suited to their need. " But our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God our Father, that loved us and gave everlasting encouragement and good hope through grace, encourage your hearts and establish you in every good work and word" (Ver. 16, 17). He who came out from God to sinful man on earth, and went to God in heaven after the accomplishment of redemption, revealed Him as our Father, as Himself abides our Lord. God is fully manifested to faith, and the believer fully blest, whilst waiting for Christ's return to complete for the body what is already done for the soul. The apostle desires that grace may cover all the path that intervenes with that divine encouragement, which alike suits His past goodness, and His people's exposure to suffering and sorrow; and the more so, because they are called to bear a steadfast testimony to Christ, inwardly and outwardly, in every good work and word. A wonderful call, when we think of God and His Son on the one hand, and of ourselves on the other. Who is sufficient for these things? Our sufficiency is of God, who has given us His Spirit, that divine power might not be lacking to the least of His children for their arduous but blessed mission. Here again the gift of everlasting encouragement does not stifle, but rather draw out and strengthen, the prayer that He may encourage His children's hearts. Our Lord, and God our Father, are remarkably identified in thus cheering and strengthening us now, as in 1 Thess. iii. 11: a special phraseology, inexplicable save grounded on the eternal relation of the Father and the Son, and their unity of nature in the Godhead.

 

 

1) The "you," ὑμᾶς, of the Authorised Version as of the Received Text, wants the testimony of the most ancient MSS., Versions, &c., which also restore the true order of the last clause, it would seem, though not with the same certainty.