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vicious practices: That they used none of the base arts peculiar to impostors, for gaining belief; but that their manner of preaching and acting, was, in all respects, suitable to the character of missionaries from God; so that on account of their personal character, they were entitled to the highest credit as teachers. -3. That the first preachers of the gospel delivered to their disciples, from the very beginning, precepts of the greatest strictness and holiness: so that by the sanctity of its precepts, the gospel is shewed to be a scheme of religion every way worthy of the true God, and highly beneficial to mankind.-4. That Jesus, the author of our religion, was declared to be the Son of God, and the Judge of the world, by his resurrection from the dead : and that by the same miracle, his own promise, and the predictions of his apostles concerning his return from heaven, to reward the righteous and punish the wicked, especially them who obey not his gospel, are rendered absolutely certain.
In setting forth the proofs of the divine original of the gospel, the Apostle with great propriety insisted, in a particular manner, on the character, behaviour, and views of the christian preachers : because an argument of that kind could not fail to have great weight with the Greeks, as it made them sensible that the ministers of the gospel were the very reverse of their philosophers, the only teachers to whom that intelligent and inquisitive people had hitherto listened. Wherefore we will not be mistaken, if we suppose, that in describing the character, manners, and views of the Christian teachers, the writers of this epistle tacitly contrasted themselves, not only with impostors in general, but with the Greek philosophers in particular, who, though in high estimation with the people, were many of them unprincipled impostors, and excessively debauched in their morals.
To the arguments offered in this epistle, in proof of the gospel revelation, little can be added, except what arises from the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament; and therefore, the very same arguments have often, since the apostle's days, been urged by those who have undertaken the defence of the Christian religion. But it is proper to remark, that in the mouth of Paul and his assistants, these arguments have double weight; for, it is not the miracles, the character, and the precepts of other persons, which they have appealed to, but their own. And, as in this epistle they have affirmed, in the most direct terms, that the Thessalonians were eye-witnesses of the miracles which they wrought for the confirmation of the gospel, and that they knew the sanctity both of their manners and of their precepts, no doubt can be entertained of these things. For it is not to be supposed, that three men of common understanding, would have joined in writing after this manner, to such numerous societies as the Thessalonian church, and the other churches, in which they ordered this epistle to be read, unless the things which they affirm were done in their presence, had really been true. And if they are true, there can be no doubt, that Paul and his assistants were commissioned of God; and that the gospel which they preached is of divine original, and of universal obligation.
The proofs of the divine original of the gospel above mentioned, being all founded on matters of fact, it is evident that their credibility does not depend on the authority, or office, or station, of the persons who have asserted them; but on their capacity and integrity, and on the number, the capacity, and the integrity of the witnesses, in whose presence they are said to have happened, and who are appealed to for the truth of them; together with the conviction which these facts wrought in the minds of the witnesses, and the alteration which the belief of them produced in their after-conduct. I call the reader's attention to this observation ; because it shews the reason why Paul and his assistants, who have asserted these facts, and who have appealed to the Thessalonians as knowing the truth of them, have not, in the inscription of their letter, assumed to themselves the titles, either of Apostles or Evangelists, but have designed themselves simply by their names; Paul, and Silvanus, and T'imothy.
Farther, though it was proper that Paul, who was the chief preacher and worker of miracles, should be the writer of this letter to the Thessalonians, yet as Silvanus and Timothy had assisted him in preaching, and had themselves wrought miracles among the Thessalonians, and were teachers of the same virtuous disinterested character with himself, and were equally faithful in preaching the gospel, they joined him in it, to give the greater weight to the appeals he was about to make to the Thessalonians. For every thing said in this letter is said of them all, and is equally true of them all; as the Thessalonians well knew. However, the arguments taken from their miracles, character, and precepts, will not have their full weight, unless we recollect, that the things affirmed of Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy, are true of all the apostles and inspired prea
chers of the gospel, without exception. In the next place, although the first epistle to the Thessalonians was written by Paul alone, Silvanus and Timothy are fitly mentioned in the inscription, for this other reason, that being ministers of the word, who possessed the gift of discerning spirits, when they read the first copy of this letter, they were qualified, by that gift, to know whether every thing contained in it was dictated to Paul by the Spirit of God; and, therefore, by allowing their names to be inserted in the inscription when it was transcribed, they declared it to be so, and added their testimony to all the doctrines and facts contained in it. By the way, this shews the propriety of the Apostle's joining Sosthenes with himself, in the inscription of his first epistle to the Corinthians; and Timothy, in the inscription of his second epistle to the same church, and in the inscriptions of his epistles to the Philippians and Colossians. For Paul, though an apostle, willingly submitted his writings to be tried by those who possessed the gift of discerning spirits; as is plain from 1 Cor. xiv. 37. If any one be really a prophet, or a spiritual person, let him acknowledge the things I write to you, that they are the commandments of the Lord. Sosthenes, therefore, being a spiritual person, very properly joined Paul in his letter to the Corinthians, because, by his gift of discerning spirits, he was equally qualified with Silvanus and Timothy, to attest, that all the things contained in the letter to which his name is prefixed, proceeded from the inspiration of the Spirit of God.
In this epistle, besides proving the divine original of the gospel, the Apostle, by wholesome reproofs, corrected certain vices and irregularities, which the Thessalonians had not yet amended.-Now on this subject, let it be observed once for all, that notwithstanding a great change was wrought in the manners of the first Christians, by their believing the gospel, they did not become all at once perfect, either in knowledge or virtue. The operation of the gospel, in rooting out their old prejudices, and in correcting their predominant vices, was gradual, and oftentimes slow. Hence, though the first Christians were all of them much more knowing and virtuous than the generality of their heathen neighbours, there were particulars in the behaviour of many of them, which needed correction. Not to mention, that through the imperfection of their knowledge of a religion altogether new to them, they were in danger of deceiving themselves with respect to their favourite vices, and of being deceived by the specious reasonings of the false teachers, who, from interested motives, flattered them in their evil practices. Wherefore, we ought not to be surprized, if, in most of the epistles which St. Paul wrote to his coverts, some irregularities are reproved. These faults were the natural, and almost unavoidable consequences of their former character, their imperfect views, and their national prejudices.
With respect to the Thessalonians in particular, the Apostle, well knowing that it was difficult for them, all at once, to divest themselves of their former habits, thought proper, when treating of the holy nature of the precepts of the gospel, to renew in the most solemn manner, those precepts against fornication in all its forms, which he had delivered to them from the very first. And his earnestness on this topic was an intimation to them, that he thought them still defective in purity. The same sus. picion he insinuated, at the conclusion of his exhortation, chap. iv. 9. But concerning brotherly love, ye have no need that I write to you ; for this implied, that they needed to be written to concerning chastity, as he had done in what immediately goes before.-Farther, because the Apostle had been informed by Ti. mothy, or some other person, that they did not pay a proper respect to their teachers, when they admonished them concerning the irregularities of their behaviour, he besought them to obey those who laboured among them in the Lord,—and to esteem them very highly with love, for their work's sake, ch. v. 12, 13. It seems the Thessalonian brethren had not acquired a just idea of that subordination to their teachers, which was necessary to the very existence of the Christian societies, while they had no protection from the civil powers, but rather were oppressed by them. The truth is, the Christian churches could not subsist in those early times, amidst the storms of persecution, which came upon them from every quarter, except by maintaining a cordial union among themselves, and by following carefully the directions of their spiritual guides.
On the other hand, the rulers and pastors of the church of the Thessalonians being discouraged, and perhaps intimidated, by the refractory disposition which many of their people shewed when rebuked for their vices, had, it seems, forborn to admonish them. 'The apostle therefore addressed them likewise, reowag them to be faithful, and plain, and earnest in admonishing every one who sinned; and particularly, those who went about meddling in other people's affairs, and neglecting their own, ch. v. :4. For notwithstanding St. Paul, while in Thessalonica, had expressly forbidden these practices, there were some who still followed them, to the great scandal of the Christian name.
This plain dealing of the Apostle towards all his disciples, seconded by the fidelity of their own pastors, had, no doubt, in time, the desired effect upon the first Christians. For, considering the honesty of disposition which they had shewed, in so readily forsaking the idolatrous practices in which they had been educated, and in embracing the gospel at the hazard of their fortunes and lives, it cannot be doubted, that most of them paid a proper regard to the carnest remonstrances of their spiritual father, delivered to them by the direction of the Holy Ghost, and to the admonitions which, from time to time, their several pastors gave them, agreeably to the mind of Christ; correcting at length those irregularities, in which, after their conversion, they had continued through mistake, or inattention, or prejudice, or habit; and attaining to such a holy manner of living as was suitable to the gospel : insomuch that even the heathens, in process of time, regarded them with admiration, on account of their virtues.