This is the first of all the epistles which St. Paul wrote. Thessalonica was one of the chief cities of Macedonia. Hither St. Paul went after the persecution at Philippi: but he had not preached here long before the unbelieving Jews raised a tumult against him and Silvanus and Timotheus. On this the brethren sent them away to Berea. Thence St. Paul went by sea to Athens, and sent for Silvanus and Timotheus to come speedily to him. But being in fear, lest the Thessalonian converts should be moved from their steadfastness, after a short time he sends Timotheus to them, to know the state of their church. Timotheus returning found the apostle at Corinth from whence he sent them this epistle, about a year after he had been at Thessalonica.
The parts of it are these:
I. The inscription,............................... C. i. 1
II. He celebrates the grace of God towards them,..... 2-10
Mentions the sincerity of himself and his
fellowlabourers,.......................... C. ii. 1-12
And the teachableness of the Thessalonians,..... 13-16
Ill. He declares,
1. His desire,................................... 17-20
2. His care,............................... C. iii. 1-5
3. His joy and prayer for them,................... 6-13
IV. He exhorts them to grow,
1. In holiness,............................. C. iv. 1-8
2. In brotherly love with industry,............... 9-12
V. He teaches and exhorts,
1. Concerning them that sleep,................... 13-18
2. Concerning the times,.................... C. v. 1-11
VI. He adds miscellaneous exhortations,............. 12-24
VII. The conclusion,................................ 25-28
Paul - In this epistle St. Paul neither uses the title of an apostle, nor any other, as writing to pious and simple - hearted men, with the utmost familiarity. There is a peculiar sweetness in this epistle, unmixed with any sharpness or reproof: those evils which the apostles afterward reproved having not yet crept into the church.
Remembering in the sight of God - That is, praising him for it. Your work of faith - Your active, ever - working faith. And labour of love - Love continually labouring for the bodies or souls of men. They who do not thus labour, do not love. Faith works, love labours, hope patiently suffers all things.
Knowing your election - Which is through faith, by these plain proofs.
With power - Piercing the very heart with a sense of sin and deeply convincing you of your want of a Saviour from guilt, misery, and eternal ruin. With the Holy Ghost - Bearing an outward testimony, by miracles, to the truth of what we preached, and you felt: also by his descent through laying on of hands. With much assurance - Literally, with full assurance, and much of it: the Spirit bearing witness by shedding the love of God abroad in your hearts, which is the highest testimony that can be given. And these signs, if not the miraculous gifts, always attend the preaching of the gospel, unless it be in vain: neither are the extraordinary operations of the Holy Ghost ever wholly withheld, where the gospel is preached with power, and men are alive to God. For your sake - Seeking your advantage, not our own.
Though in much affliction, yet with much joy.
For from you the word sounded forth - (Thessalonica being a city of great commerce.) Being echoed, as it were, from you. And your conversion was divulged far beyond Macedonia and Achaia. So that we need not speak anything - Concerning it.
For they themselves - The people wherever we come.
Whom he hath raised from the dead - In proof of his future coming to judgment. Who delivereth us - He redeemed us once; he delivers us continually; and will deliver all that believe from the wrath, the eternal vengeance, which will then come upon the ungodly.
What was proposed, <cite>1Thess 1:5</cite>,6, is now more largely treated of: concerning Paul and his fellowlabourers, <cite>1Th 2:1 </cite>- 12; concerning the Thessalonians, <cite>1Th 2:13 </cite>- 16.
We had suffered - In several places. We are bold - Notwithstanding. With much contention - Notwithstanding both inward and outward conflicts of all kinds.
For our exhortation - That is, our preaching. A part is put for the whole. Is not, at any time, of deceit - We preach not a lie, but the truth of God. Nor of uncleanness - With any unholy or selfish view. This expression is not always appropriated to lust, although it is sometimes emphatically applied thereto. Nor in guile - But with great plainness of speech.
Flattering words - This ye know. Nor a cloak of covetousness - Of this God is witness. He calls men to witness an open fact; God, the secret intentions of the heart. In a point of a mixed nature, <cite>1Th 2:10</cite>, he appeals both to God and man.
Nor from others - Who would have honoured us more, if we had been burdensome - That is, taken state upon ourselves.
But we were gentle - Mild, tender. In the midst of you - Like a hen surrounded with her young. Even as a nurse cherisheth her own children - The offspring of her own womb.
To impart our own souls - To lay down our lives for your sake.
Holily - In the things of God. Justly - With regard to men. Unblamable - In respect of ourselves. Among you that believe - Who were the constant observers of our behaviour.
By exhorting, we are moved to do a thing willingly; by comforting, to do it joyfully; by charging, to do it carefully.
To his kingdom here, and glory hereafter.
Ye suffered the same things - The same fruit, the same afflictions, and the same experience, at all times, and in all places, are an excellent criterion of evangelical truth. As they from the Jews - Their countrymen.
Us - Apostles and preachers of the gospel. They please not God - Nor are they even careful to please him, notwithstanding their fair professions. And are contrary to all men - Are common enemies of mankind; not only by their continual seditions and insurrections, and by their utter contempt of all other nations; but in particular, by their endeavouring to hinder their hearing or receiving the gospel.
To fill up - The measure of their sins always, as they have ever done. But the vengeance of God is come upon them - Hath overtaken them unawares, whilst they were seeking to destroy others, and will speedily complete their destruction.
In this verse we have a remarkable instance, not so much of the transient affections of holy grief, desire, or joy, as of that abiding tenderness, that loving temper, which is so apparent in all St. Paul's writings, towards those he styles his children in the faith. This is the more carefully to be observed, because the passions occasionally exercising themselves, and flowing like a torrent, in the apostle, are observable to every reader; whereas it requires a nicer attention to discern those calm standing tempers, that fixed posture of his soul, from whence the others only flow out, and which more peculiarly distinguish his character.
Satan - By those persecuting Jews, <cite>Acts 17:13</cite>.
Ye also - As well as our other children.
We - Paul and Silvanus. Could bear no longer - Our desire and fear for you.
We are appointed hereto - Are in every respect laid in a fit posture for it, by the very design and contrivance of God himself for the trial and increase of our faith and all other graces. He gives riches to the world; but stores up his treasure of wholesome afflictions for his children.
But now when Timotheus was come to us from you - Immediately after his return, St. Paul wrote; while his joy was fresh, and his tenderness at the height.
Now we live - Indeed; we enjoy life: so great is our affection for you.
And perfect that which is wanting in your faith - So St. Paul did not know that "they who are once upon the rock no longer need to be taught by man."
Direct our way - This prayer is addressed to Christ, as well as to the Father.
With all his, Christ's, saints - Both angels and men.
More and more - It is not enough to have faith, even so as to please God, unless we abound more and more therein.
Sanctification - Entire holiness of heart and life: particular branches of it are subjoined. That ye abstain from fornication - A beautiful transition from sanctification to a single branch of the contrary; and this shows that nothing is so seemingly distant, or below our thoughts, but we have need to guard against it.
That every one know - For this requires knowledge, as well as chastity. To possess his vessel - His wife. In sanctification and honour - So as neither to dishonour God or himself, nor to obstruct, but further, holiness; remembering, marriage is not designed to inflame, but to conquer, natural desires.
Not in passionate desire - Which had no place in man when in a state of innocence. Who know not God - And so may naturally seek happiness in a creature. What seemingly accidental words slide in; and yet how fine, and how vastly important!
In this matter - By violating his bed. The things forbidden, here are three: fornication, <cite>1Th 4:3</cite>; the passion of desire, or inordinate affection in the married state, <cite>1Th 4:5</cite>; and the breach of the marriage contract.
He that despiseth - The commandments we gave. Despiseth God - Himself. Who hath also given you his Holy Spirit - To convince you of the truth, and enable you to be holy. What naked majesty of words! How oratorical, and yet with what great simplicity! - a simplicity that does not impair, but improve, the understanding to the utmost; that, like the rays of heat through a glass, collects all the powers of reason into one orderly point, from being scattered abroad in utter confusion.
We need not write - Largely. For ye are taught of God - By his Spirit.
That ye study - Literally, that ye be ambitious: an ambition worthy a Christian. To work with your hands - Not a needless caution; for temporal concerns are often a cross to them who are newly filled with the love of God.
Decently - That they may have no pretence to say, (but they will say it still,) "This religion makes men idle, and brings them to beggary." And may want nothing - Needful for life and godliness. What Christian desires more?
Now - Herein the efficacy of Christianity greatly appears, - that it neither takes away nor embitters, but sweetly tempers, that most refined of all affections, our desire of or love to the dead.
So - As God raised him. With him - With their living head.
By the word of the Lord - By a particular revelation. We who are left - This intimates the fewness of those who will be then alive, compared to the multitude of the dead. Believers of all ages and nations make up, as it were, one body; in consideration of which, the believers of that age might put themselves in the place, and speak in the person, of them who were to live till the coming of the Lord. Not that St. Paul hereby asserted (though some seem to have imagined so) that the day of the Lord was at hand.
With a shout - Properly, a proclamation made to a great multitude. Above this is, the voice of the archangel; above both, the trumpet of God; the voice of God, somewhat analogous to the sound of a trumpet.
Together - In the same moment. In the air - The wicked will remain beneath, while the righteous, being absolved, shall be assessors with their Lord in the judgment. With the Lord - In heaven.
But of the precise times when this shall be.
For this in general ye do know; and ye can and need know no more.
When they - The men of the world say.
Ye are not in darkness - Sleeping secure in sin.
Awake, and keep awake - Being awakened, let us have all our spiritual senses about us.
They usually sleep and are drunken in the night - These things do not love the light.
God hath not appointed us to wrath - As he hath the obstinately impenitent.
Whether we wake or sleep - Be alive or dead at his coming.
Know them that,
Know - See, mark, take knowledge of them and their work. Sometimes the same person may both labour, that is, preach; be over, or govern; and admonish the flock by particular application to each: sometimes two or more different persons, according as God variously dispenses his gifts. But O, what a misery is it when a man undertakes this whole work without either gifts or graces for any part of it! Why, then, will he undertake it? for pay? What! will he sell both his own soul and all the souls of the flock? What words can describe such a wretch as this? And yet even this may be "an honourable man!"
Esteem them very highly - Literally, more than abundantly, in love - The inexpressible sympathy that is between true pastors and their flock is intimated, not only here, but also in divers other places of this epistle. See <cite>1Thess 2:7</cite>,8. For their work's sake - The principal ground of their vast regard for them. But how are we to esteem them who do not work at all?
Warn the disorderly - Them that stand, as it were, out of their rank in the spiritual warfare. Some such were even in that church. The feeble - minded - Literally, them of little soul; such as have no spiritual courage.
See that none - Watch over both yourselves and each other. Follow that which is good - Do it resolutely and perseveringly.
Rejoice evermore - In uninterrupted happiness in God. Pray without ceasing - Which is the fruit of always rejoicing in the Lord. In everything give thanks - Which is the fruit of both the former. This is Christian perfection. Farther than this we cannot go; and we need not stop short of it. Our Lord has purchased joy, as well as righteousness, for us. It is the very design of the gospel that, being saved from guilt, we should be happy in the love of Christ. Prayer may be said to be the breath of our spiritual life. He that lives cannot possibly cease breathing. So much as we really enjoy of the presence of God, so much prayer and praise do we offer up without ceasing; else our rejoicing is but delusion. Thanksgiving is inseparable from true prayer: it is almost essentially connected with it. He that always prays is ever giving praise, whether in ease or pain, both for prosperity and for the greatest adversity. He blesses God for all things, looks on them as coming from him, and receives them only for his sake; not choosing nor refusing, liking nor disliking, anything, but only as it is agreeable or disagreeable to his perfect will.
For this - That you should thus rejoice, pray, give thanks. Is the will of God - Always good, always pointing at our salvation.
Quench not the Spirit - Wherever it is, it burns; it flames in holy love, in joy, prayer, thanksgiving. O quench it not, damp it not in yourself or others, either by neglecting to do good, or by doing evil!
Despise not prophesyings - That is, preaching; for the apostle is not here speaking of extraordinary gifts. It seems, one means of grace is put for all; and whoever despises any of these, under whatever pretence, will surely (though perhaps gradually and almost insensibly) quench the Spirit.
Meantime, prove all things - Which any preacher recommends. (He speaks of practice, not of doctrines.) Try every advice by the touchstone of scripture, and hold fast that which is good - Zealously, resolutely, diligently practise it, in spite of all opposition.
And be equally zealous and careful to abstain from all appearance of evil - Observe, those who "heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears," under pretence of proving all things, have no countenance or excuse from this scripture.
And may the God of peace sanctify you - By the peace he works in you, which is a great means of sanctification. Wholly - The word signifies wholly and perfectly; every part and all that concerns you; all that is of or about you. And may the whole of you, the spirit and the soul and the body - Just before he said you; now he denominates them from their spiritual state. The spirit - <cite>Gal 6:8</cite>; wishing that it may be preserved whole and entire: then from their natural state, the soul and the body; (for these two make up the whole nature of man, <cite>Matt 10:28</cite>;) wishing it may be preserved blameless till the coming of Christ. To explain this a little further: of the three here mentioned, only the two last are the natural constituent parts of man. The first is adventitious, and the supernatural gift of God, to be found in Christians only. That man cannot possibly consist of three parts, appears hence: The soul is either matter or not matter: there is no medium. But if it is matter, it is part of the body: if not matter, it coincides with the Spirit.
Who also will do it - Unless you quench the Spirit.
I charge you by the Lord - Christ, to whom proper divine worship is here paid. That this epistle - The first he wrote. Be read to all the brethren - That is, in all the churches. They might have concealed it out of modesty, had not this been so solemnly enjoined: but what Paul commands under so strong an adjuration, Rome forbids under pain of excommunication.