The apostle continues to speak of Christ's coming to judgment, and the uncertainty of the time in which it shall take place, and the careless state of sinners, 1-3. Shows the Thessalonians that they are children of the light; that they should watch and pray, and put on the armour of God, being called to obtain salvation by Christ, who died for them; that whether dead or alive, when the day of judgment comes, they may live for ever with him; and that they should comfort and edify each other with these considerations, 4-11. He exhorts them to remember those who labour among them, and are over them in the Lord; and to esteem such highly for their work's sake, 12,13. He charges them to warn, comfort, and support those who stood in need of such assistance, and to be patient and beneficent towards all, 14,15. He points out their high spiritual privileges; warns them against neglecting or misimproving the gifts of the Spirit, and the means of grace, 16-20. They are also exhorted to prove all things; to abstain from all evil; and to expect to be sanctified, through spirit, soul, and body, by him who has promised this, and who is faithful to his promises, 21-24. Recommends himself and brethren to their prayers; shows them how they are to greet each other; charges them to read this epistle to all the brethren; and concludes with the usual apostolical benediction, 25-28.
Notes on Chapter 5
But of the times and the seasons
It is natural to suppose, after what he had said in the conclusion of the preceding chapter concerning the coming of Christ, the raising of the dead, and rendering those immortal who should then be found alive, without obliging them to pass through the empire of death, that the Thessalonians would feel an innocent curiosity to know, as the disciples did concerning the destruction of Jerusalem, when those things should take place, and what should be the signs of those times, and of the coming of the Son of man. And it is remarkable that the apostle answers, here, to these anticipated questions as our Lord did, in the above case, to the direct question of his disciples; and he seems to refer in these words, Of the times and the seasons ye have no need that I write unto you, for yourselves know that the day of the Lord cometh as a thief in the night, to what our Lord said, Matthew 24:44;; 25:13; and the apostle takes it for granted that they were acquainted with our Lord's prediction on the subject: For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night. It is very likely therefore, that the apostle, like our Lord, couples these two grand events-the destruction of Jerusalem and the final judgment. And it appears most probable that it is of the former event chiefly that he speaks here, as it was certainly of the latter that he treated in the conclusion of the preceding chapter. In the notes on Acts 1:6,7, it has already been shown that the χρονουςηκαιρους, times or seasons, (the very same terms which are used here,) refer to the destruction of the Jewish commonwealth; and we may fairly presume that they have the same meaning in this place.
For when they shall say, Peace and safety
This points out, very particularly, the state of the Jewish people when the Romans came against them; and so fully persuaded were they that God would not deliver the city and temple to their enemies, that they refused every overture that was made to them.
In the storming of their city and the burning of their temple, and the massacre of several hundreds of thousands of themselves; the rest being sold for slaves, and the whole of them dispersed over the face of the earth.
As travail upon a woman
This figure is perfectly consistent with what the apostle had said before, viz.: that the times and seasons were not known: though the thing itself was expected, our Lord having predicted it in the most positive manner. So, a woman with child knows that, if she be spared, she will have a bearing time; but the week, the day, the hour, she cannot tell. In a great majority of cases the time is accelerated or retarded much before or beyond the time that the woman expected; so, with respect to the Jews, neither the day, week, month, nor year was known. All that was specifically known was this: their destruction was coming, and it should be sudden, and they should not escape.
But ye, brethren, are not in darkness
Probably St. Paul refers to a notion that was very prevalent among the Jews, viz.: that God would judge the Gentiles in the night time, when utterly secure and careless; but he would judge the Jews in the day time, when employed in reading and performing the words of the law. The words in Midrash Tehillim, on Psalm ix. 8, are the following: When the holy blessed God shall judge the Gentiles, it shall be in the night season, in which they shall be asleep in their transgressions; but when he shall judge the Israelites, it shall be in the day time, when they are occupied in the study of the law. This maxim the apostle appears to have in view in the 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th verses. 1 Thessalonians 5:4-8
Ye are all the children of light
Ye are children of God, and enjoy both his light and life. Ye are Christians-ye belong to him who has brought life and immortality to light by his Gospel. This dispensation, under which ye are, has illustrated all the preceding dispensations; in its light all is become luminous; and ye, who walked formerly in heathen ignorance, or in the darkness of Jewish prejudices, are now light in the Lord, because ye have believed in him who is the light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory and splendour of his people Israel.
We are not of the night, nor of darkness.
Our actions are such as we are not afraid to expose to the fullest and clearest light. Sinners hate the light; they are enemies to knowledge; they love darkness; they will not receive instructions; and their deeds are such as cannot bear the light.
Let us not sleep, as do others
Let us who are of the day-who believe the Gospel and belong to Christ, not give way to a careless, unconcerned state of mind, like to the Gentiles and sinners in general, who are stupified and blinded by sin, so that they neither think nor feel; but live in time as if it were eternity; or rather, live as if there were no eternity, no future state of existence, rewards, or punishments.
Let us watch
Be always on the alert; and be sober, making a moderate use of all things.
For they that sleep
Sleepers and drunkards seek the night season; so the careless and the profligate persons indulge their evil propensities, and avoid all means of instruction; they prefer their ignorance to the word of God's grace, and to the light of life. There seems to be here an allusion to the opinion mentioned under 1 Thessalonians 5:4, to which the reader is requested to refer. It may be remarked, also, that it was accounted doubly scandalous, even among the heathen, to be drunk in the day time. They who were drunken were drunken in the night.
Putting on the breastplate
We are not only called to WORK, but we are called also to fight; and that we may not be surprised, we must watch; and that we may be in a condition to defend ourselves, we must be sober; and that we may be enabled to conquer, we must be armed: and what the breastplate and helmet are to a soldier's heart and head, such are faith, love, and hope to us. Faith enables us to endure, as seeing him who is invisible; love excites us to diligence and activity, and makes us bear our troubles and difficulties pleasantly; hope helps us to anticipate the great end, the glory that shall be revealed, and which we know we shall in due time obtain, if we faint not. For an explanation of the different parts of the Grecian armour, as illustrating that of the Christian, see the notes on Eph. 6, where the subject is largely explained.
For God hath not appointed us to wrath
So then it appears that some were appointed to wrath, ειςοργην, to punishment; on this subject there can be no dispute. But who are they? When did this appointment take place? And for what cause? These are supposed to be "very difficult questions, and such as cannot receive a satisfactory answer; and the whole must be referred to the sovereignty of God." If we look carefully at the apostle's words, we shall find all these difficulties vanish. It is very obvious that, in the preceding verses, the apostle refers simply to the destruction of the Jewish polity, and to the terrible judgments which were about to fall on the Jews as a nation; therefore, they are the people who were appointed to wrath; and they were thus appointed, not from eternity, nor from any indefinite or remote time, but from that time in which they utterly rejected the offers of salvation made to them by Jesus Christ and his apostles; the privileges of their election were still continued to them, even after they had crucified the Lord of glory; for, when he gave commandment to his disciples to go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature, he bade them begin at Jerusalem. They did so, and continued to offer salvation to them, till at last, being everywhere persecuted, and the whole nation appearing with one consent to reject the Gospel, the kingdom of God was wholly taken away from them, and the apostles turned to the Gentiles. Then God appointed them to wrath; and the cause of that appointment was their final and determined rejection of Christ and his Gospel. But even this appointment to wrath does not signify eternal damnation; nothing of the kind is intended in the word. Though we are sure that those who die in their sins can never see God, yet it is possible that many of those wretched Jews, during their calamities, and especially during the siege of their city, did turn unto the Lord who smote them, and found that salvation which he never denies to the sincere penitent.
When the Jews were rejected, and appointed to wrath, then the Gentiles were elected, and appointed to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ, whose Gospel they gladly received, and continue to prize; while the remnant of the Jews continue, in all places of their dispersion, the same irreconcilable and blasphemous opponents of the Gospel of Christ. On these accounts the election of the Gentiles and the reprobation of the Jews still continue.
Who died for us
His death was an atoning sacrifice for the Gentiles as well as for the Jews.
Whether we wake or sleep
Whether we live or die, whether we are in this state or in the other world, we shall live together with him-shall enjoy his life, and the consolations of his Spirit, while here; and shall be glorified together with him in the eternal world. The words show that every where and in all circumstances genuine believers, who walk after God, have life and communion with him, and are continually happy, and constantly safe. The apostle, however, may refer to the doctrine he has delivered, 1 Thessalonians 4:15, concerning the dead in Christ rising first; and the last generation of men not dying, but undergoing such a change as shall render them immortal. On that great day, all the followers of God, both those who had long slept in the dust of the earth, and all those who shall be found living, shall be acknowledged by Christ as his own, and live together for ever with him.
Rest assured that, in all times and circumstances, it shall be well with the righteous; let every man lay this to heart; and with this consideration comfort and edify each other in all trials and difficulties.
Act kindly towards them; acknowledge them as the messengers of Christ; and treat them with tenderness and respect. This is a frequent meaning of the word γινωσκω. See Clarke on John 1:10.
Them which labour among you
The words τουςκοπιωντας have appeared to some as expressing those who had laboured among them; but as it is the participle of the present tense, there is no need to consider it in this light. Both it and the word προισταμενους, the superintendents, refer to persons then actually employed in the work of God. These were all admonishers, teachers, and instructers of the people, devoting their time and talents to this important work.
Esteem them very highly in love
Christian ministers, who preach the whole truth, and labour in the word and doctrine, are entitled to more than respect; the apostle commands them to be esteemed υπερεκπερισσου, abundantly, and superabundantly; and this is to be done in love; and as men delight to serve those whom they love, it necessarily follows that they should provide for them, and see that they want neither the necessaries nor conveniences of life; I do not say comforts, though these also should be furnished; but of these the genuine messengers of Christ are frequently destitute. However, they should have food, raiment, and lodging for themselves and their household. This they ought to have for their work's sake; those who do not work should not eat. As ministers of Christ, such as labour not are unworthy either of respect or support.
Warn them that are unruly
The whole phraseology of this verse is military; I shall consider the import of each term. ατακτους. Those who are out of their ranks, and are neither in a disposition nor situation to perform the work and duty of a soldier; those who will not do the work prescribed, and who will meddle with what is not commanded. There are many such in every Church that is of considerable magnitude.
Comfort the feeble-minded
τουςολιγοψυχους. Those of little souls; the faint-hearted; those who, on the eve of a battle, are dispirited, because of the number of the enemy, and their own feeble and unprovided state. Let them know that the battle is not theirs, but the Lord's; and that those who trust in him shall conquer.
Support the weak
αντεχεσθετωνασθενων. Shore up, prop them that are weak; strengthen those wings and companies that are likely to be most exposed, that they be not overpowered and broken in the day of battle.
Be patient toward all
μακροθυμειτεπροςπαντας. The disorderly, the feeble-minded, and the weak, will exercise your patience, and try your temper. If the troops be irregular, and cannot in every respect be reduced to proper order and discipline, let not the officers lose their temper nor courage; let them do the best they can; God will be with them, and a victory will give confidence to their troops. We have often seen that the Christian life is compared to a warfare, and that the directions given to soldiers are, mutatis mutandis; allowing for the different systems, suitable to Christians. This subject has been largely treated on, Eph. 6. The ministers of Christ, being considered as officers, should acquaint themselves with the officers' duty. He who has the direction and management of a Church of God will need all the skill and prudence he can acquire.
See that none render evil for evil
Every temper contrary to love is contrary to Christianity. A peevish, fretful, vindictive man may be a child of Satan; he certainly is not a child of God.
Follow that which is good
That by which ye may profit your brethren and your neighbours of every description, whether Jews or Gentiles.
Be always happy; the religion of Christ was intended to remove misery. He that has God for his portion may constantly exult. Four MSS. of good note add εντω κυριω, in the Lord: Rejoice in the Lord evermore.
Pray without ceasing.
Ye are dependent on God for every good; without him ye can do nothing; feel that dependence at all times, and ye will always be in the spirit of prayer; and those who feel this spirit will, as frequently as possible, be found in the exercise of prayer.
In every thing give thanks
For this reason, that all things work together for good to them that love God; therefore, every occurrence may be a subject of gratitude and thankfulness. While ye live to God, prosperity and adversity will be equally helpful to you.
For this is the will of God
That ye should be always happy; that ye should ever be in the spirit of prayer; and that ye should profit by every occurrence in life, and be continually grateful and obedient; for gratitude and obedience are inseparably connected.
Quench not the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit is represented as a fire, because it is his province to enlighten and quicken the soul; and to purge, purify, and refine it. This Spirit is represented as being quenched when any act is done, word spoken, or temper indulged, contrary to its dictates. It is the Spirit of love, and therefore anger, malice, revenge, or any unkind or unholy temper, will quench it so that it will withdraw its influences; and then the heart is left in a state of hardness and darkness. It has been observed that fire may be quenched as well by heaping earth on it as by throwing water on it; and so the love of the world will as effectually grieve and quench the Spirit as any ordinary act of transgression.
Every genuine Christian is made a partaker of the Spirit of God; and he who has not the spirit of Christ is none of his. It cannot be the miraculous gifts of the Spirit which the apostle means, for these were given to few, and not always; for even apostles could not work miracles when they pleased; but the direction in the text is general, and refers to a gift of which they were generally partakers.
Despise not prophesyings.
Do not suppose that ye have no need of continual instruction; without it ye cannot preserve the Christian life, nor go on to perfection. God will ever send a message of salvation by each of his ministers to every faithful, attentive hearer. Do not suppose that ye are already wise enough; you are no more wise enough than you are holy enough. They who slight or neglect the means of grace, and especially the preaching of God's holy word, are generally vain, empty, self-conceited people, and exceedingly superficial both in knowledge and piety.
Prove all things
Whatever ye hear in these prophesyings or preachings, examine by the words of Christ, and by the doctrines which, from time to time, we have delivered unto you in our preaching and writings. Try the spirits-the different teachers, by the word of God.
Hold fast that which is good.
Whatever in these prophesyings has a tendency to increase your faith, love, holiness, and usefulness, that receive and hold fast. There were prophets or teachers even at that time who professed to be of God, and yet were not.
Abstain from all appearance of evil.
Sin not, and avoid even the appearance of it. Do not drive your morality so near the bounds of evil as to lead even weak persons to believe that ye actually touch, taste, or handle it. Let not the form of it, ειδος, appear with or among you, much less the substance. Ye are called to holiness; be ye holy, for God is holy.
And the very God of peace
That same God who is the author of peace, the giver of peace; and who has sent, for the redemption of the world, the Prince of peace; may that very God sanctify you wholly; leave no more evil in your hearts than his precepts tolerate evil in your conduct. The word wholly, ολετελεις means precisely the same as our phrase, to all intents and purposes. May he sanctify you to the end and to the uttermost, that, as sin hath reigned unto death, even so may grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord.
Your whole spirit and soul and body
Some think that the apostle alludes to the Pythagorean and Platonic doctrine, which was acknowledged among the Thessalonians. I should rather believe that he refers simply to the fact, that the creature called man is a compound being, consisting, 1. Of a body, σωμα, an organized system, formed by the creative energy of God out of the dust of the earth; composed of bones, muscles, and nerves; of arteries, veins, and a variety of other vessels, in which the blood and other fluids circulate. 2. Of a soul, ψυχη, which is the seat of the different affections and passions, such as love, hatred, anger, different kinds. 3. Of spirit, πνευμα, the immortal principle, the source of life to the body and soul, without which the animal functions cannot be performed, how perfect soever the bodily organs may be; and which alone possesses the faculty of intelligence, understanding, thinking, and reasoning, and produces the faculty of speech wherever it resides, if accident have not impaired the organs of speech.
The apostle prays that this compound being, in all its parts, powers, and faculties, which he terms ολοκληρον, their whole, comprehending all parts, every thing that constitutes man and manhood, may be sanctified and preserved blameless till the coming of Christ; hence we learn, 1. That body, soul, and spirit are debased and polluted by sin. 2. That each is capable of being sanctified, consecrated in all its powers to God, and made holy. 3. That the whole man is to be preserved to the coming of Christ, that body, soul, and spirit may be then glorified for ever with him. 4. That in this state the whole man may be so sanctified as to be preserved blameless till the coming of Christ. And thus we learn that the sanctification is not to take place in, at, or after death. On the pollution and sanctification of flesh and spirit, See Clarke on 2 Corinthians 7:1.
Faithful is he that calleth you
In a great variety of places in his word God has promised to sanctify his followers, and his faithfulness binds him to fulfil his promises; therefore he will do it. He who can believe will find this thing also possible to him.
Pray for me.
Even apostles, while acting under an extraordinary mission, and enjoying the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, felt the necessity of the prayers of the faithful. God requires that his people should pray for his ministers; and it is not to be wondered at, if they who pray not for their preachers should receive no benefit from their teaching. How can they expect God to send a message by him, for whom they, who are the most interested, have not prayed? If the grace and Spirit of Christ be not worth the most earnest prayers which a man can offer, they, and the heaven to which they lead, are not worth having.
Greet all the brethren
See Clarke on Romans 16:16. Instead of all the brethren, the Coptic has, greet one another; a reading not noticed by either Griesbach or Wetstein.
I charge you by the Lord, that this epistle be read
There must have been some particular reason for this solemn charge; he certainly had some cause to suspect that the epistle would be suppressed in some way or other, and that the whole Church would not be permitted to hear it; or he may refer to the smaller Churches contiguous to Thessalonica, or the Churches in Macedonia in general, whom he wished to hear it, as well as those to whom it was more immediately directed. There is no doubt that the apostles designed that their epistles should be copied, and sent to all the Churches in the vicinity of that to which they were directed. Had this not been the case, a great number of Churches would have known scarcely any thing of the New Testament. As every Jewish synagogue had a copy of the law and the prophets, so every Christian Church had a copy of the gospels and the epistles, which were daily, or at least every Sabbath, read for the instruction of the people. This the apostle deemed so necessary, that he adjured them by the Lord to read this epistle to all the brethren; i.e. to all the Christians in that district. Other Churches might get copies of it; and thus, no doubt, it soon became general. In this way other parts of the sacred writings were disseminated through all the Churches of the Gentiles; and the errors of the different scribes, employed to take copies, constituted what are now called the various readings.
The grace of our Lord Jesus
As the epistle began so it ends; for the grace of Christ must be at the beginning and end of every work, in order to complete it, and bring it to good effect.
This is wanting in BD*FG and some others. It was probably not written by St. Paul.
The subscriptions are, as in other cases, various and contradictory. The chief MSS. conclude as follows: The first to the Thessalonians is completed; the second to the Thessalonians begins.-DFG. The first to the Thessalonians written from Athens.-AB, and others. From Laodicea.-Cod. Claromont. The first to the Thessalonians, written from Athens.-Common Greek text.
The VERSIONS conclude thus:-The First Epistle to the Thessalonians was written at Athens, and sent by the hands of Timotheus.-SYRIAC. To the Thessalonians.-AETHIOPIC. Nothing in the VULGATE. The end of the epistle: it was written from a city of the Athenians, and sent by the hand of Timotheus. And to the Lord be praise for ever and ever. Amen.-ARABIC. Written from Athens, and sent by Silvanus and Timotheus.-COPTIC.
That it was not sent by either Silvanus or Timothy is evident enough from the inscription, for St. Paul associates these two with himself, in directing it to the Thessalonian Church. Others say that it was sent by Tychicus and Onesimus, but this also is absurd; for Onesimus was not converted till a considerable time after the writing of this epistle. That it was written by St. Paul, there is no doubt; and that it was written at Corinth, and not at Athens, has been shown in the preface.
1. THE two preceding chapters are certainly among the most important and the most sublime in the New Testament. The general judgment, the resurrection of the body, and the states of the quick and dead, the unrighteous and the just, are described, concisely indeed, but they are exhibited in the most striking and affecting points of view. I have attempted little else than verbal illustrations; the subject is too vast for my comprehension; I cannot order my speech by reason of darkness. Though there are some topics handled here which do not appear in other parts of the sacred writings, yet the main of what we learn is this. "Our God will come, and will not keep silence; a fire shall burn before him, and it shall be very tempestuous round about him; he shall call to the heavens above, and to the earth beneath, that he may judge his people. "The day of judgment! what an awful word is this! what a truly terrific time! when the heavens shall be shrivelled as a scroll, and the elements melt with fervent heat; when the earth and its appendages shall be burnt up, and the fury of that conflagration be such that there shall be no more sea! A time when the noble and ignoble dead, the small and the great, shall stand before God, and all be judged according to the deeds done in the body; yea, a time when the thoughts of the heart and every secret thing shall be brought to light; when the innumerable millions of transgressions, and embryo and abortive sins, shall be exhibited in all their purposes and intents; a time when Justice, eternal Justice, shall sit alone upon the throne, and pronounce a sentence as impartial as irrevocable, and as awful as eternal! There is a term of human life; and every human being is rapidly gliding to it as fast as the wings of time, in their onward motion, incomprehensibly swift, can carry him! And shall not the living lay this to heart? Should we not live in order to die? Should we not die in order to be judged? And should we not live and die so as to live again to all eternity, not with Satan and his angels, but with God and his saints? O thou man of God! thou Christian! thou immortal spirit! think of these things.
2. The subject in verse 27 1 Thessalonians 5:27of the last chapter I have but slightly noticed: I charge you, by the Lord, that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren. This is exceedingly strange; the Epistles to the Romans, the Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, were directed to the whole Church in each of those places; why, then, after directing this, as he did all the rest, to the whole Church, should he at the conclusion adjure them, by the Lord, that it should be read to all the holy brethren; that is, to the very persons to whom it was addressed? Is there not some mystery here? Has it not been the endeavour of Satan, from the beginning, to keep men from consulting the oracles of God; and has he not used even the authority of the Church to accomplish this his purpose! Was not the prohibiting the use of the Scriptures to the people at large the mystery of iniquity which then began to work, and against which the adjuration of the apostle is directed? see second epistle, chap. 2; this mystery, which was the grand agent in the hands of Mystery, Babylon the Great, to keep the people in darkness, that the unauthorized and wicked pretensions of this mother of the abominations of the earth might not be brought to the test; but that she might continue to wear her crown, sit on her scarlet beast, and subject the Christian world to her empire. Was it not the Christian world's total ignorance of God's book which the Romish Church took care to keep from the people at large, that induced them patiently, yet with terror, to bow down to all her usurpations, and to swallow down monstrous doctrines which she imposed upon them as Christian verities? Was it not this deplorable ignorance which induced kings and emperors to put their necks, literally, under the feet of this usurped and antichristian power? This mystery of iniquity continues still to work; and with all the pretensions of the Romish Church, the Scriptures are in general withheld from the people, or suffered to be read under such restrictions and with such notes as totally subvert the sense of those passages on which this Church endeavours to build her unscriptural pretensions. It is generally allowed that the Vulgate version is the most favourable to these pretensions, and yet even that version the rulers of the Church dare not trust in the hands of any of their people, even under their general ecclesiastical restrictions, without their counteracting notes and comments. How strange is this! and yet in this Church there have been, and still are, many enlightened and eminent men; surely truth has nothing to fear from the Bible. When the Romish Church permits the free use of this book, she may be stripped, indeed, of some of her appendages, but she will lose nothing but her dross and tin, and become what the original Church at Rome was, beloved of God, called to be saints; and have her faith, once more, spoken of throughout all the world, Romans 1:7,8. She has, in her own hands the means of her own regeneration; and a genuine Protestant will wish, not her destruction, but her reformation; and if she consent not to be reformed, her total destruction is inevitable.
Finished correcting for a new edition, on the shortest day of 1831.-A. C.