« PreviousContinue »
to him forthwith. In obedience to that order, Timothy alone came to Athens. But the apostle immediately sent him back to Thessalonica, to comfort the brethren, and to exhort them concerning their faith, 1Thess. üi. 1, 2.-After Timothy left Athens, Paul endeavoured to plant the gospel in that celebrated mart of learning, by the force of reasoning alone, without the aid of miracles. The Athenian philosophers, however, not being convinced by his discourses, though he reasoned in the most forcible manner against the polytheism to which they were addicted, he made but few disciples. Leaving Athens, therefore, before Timothy returned from Thessalonica, he went to Corinth, the chief city of the province of Achaia, in hopes of being better received. This happened soon after the Emperor Claudius banished the Jews from Rome. For, on his arrival at Corinth, the apostle found Aquila and Priscilla, lately come from Italy, in consequence of the Emperor's edict.
St. Paul had not been long at Corinth when Timothy came to him from Thessalonica, Acts xviii. 5. and, no doubt, gave him such an account of affairs in Thessalonica, as made him sensible that his presence was greatly wanted in that city. But the success with which he was preaching the gospel in Achaia, render. ed it improper for him to leave Corinth at that time. To supply, therefore, the want of his presence, he immediately wrote to the Thessalonian brethren this his first epistle, in which, as we shall see immediately, he treated of those matters, which he would have made the subjects of his discourses had he been present with them.
From these facts and circumstances, which are all related in the history of the Acts, it appears that this first epistle to the Thessalonians was written, not from Athens, as the interpolated postscript at the end of the epistle bears, but from Corinth; and that not long after the publication of Claudius's edict against the Jews; which happened in the twelfth year of his reign, answering to A. D. 51. I suppose it was written in the end of
Of the Occasion of writing the First Epistle to the Thessalonians. It seems the idolaters in Thessalonica, greatly displeased with their fellow-citizens for deserting the temples and worship of the Gods, were easily persuaded by the Jews to make the as
sault, above described, against the Christian teachers. The Jews, however, and the idolatrous rabble, were not the only enemies of Christ in Thessalonica. The philosophers, of whom there were many in all the great cities of the Greeks, finding the gospel very favourably received by the people, would naturally, after their manner, examine it scientifically, and oppose it by arguments. This I may venture to affirm, because, while the magistrates, the priests, and the multitude, were endeavouring to suppress the new doctrine, by persecuting its preachers and adherents, it is not to be imagined, that the men of learning in Thessalonica would remain inactive. We may, therefore, be. lieve that many of them reasoned, both against the doctrines of the gospel, and against its miracles ; reprobating the former as foolishness, and representing the latter as the effects of magic. And with respect to its preachers, they spake loudly against them as impostors, because they had not appeared, with Jason and the rest, before the magistrates, but had fled by night to Berca. For, with some shew of reason, they might pretend that this flight of the new teachers, proceeded from a consciousness of the falsehood of their doctrine and miracles. Besides, having left their disciples in Thessalonica, to bear the persecution alone, without giving them any aid, either by their counsel or their example, the philosophers might urge that circumstance as a proof that these pretended messengers of God were deficient in courage, and had no affection for their disciples; to the great discredit of Paul in particular, who had boasted of his fortitude in suffering for the gospel, and had professed the greatest love to the Thessalonians.
If the reader will, for a moment, suppose himself in the place of the learned Greeks, at the time the gospel was first preached in Thessalonica, he will be sensible how natural it was for them to oppose it by disputation ; nay, he will acknowledge that their discourses, after the apostle's fight, might be such as we have represented. On this supposition, it can hardly be doubted, that these discourses were reported to Timothy in Beræa, by the brethren who came to him from Thessalonica, after Paul's departure; and that when Timothy followed the apostle to Athens, he informed him particularly of every thing he had heard. What else could have moved the apostle to send Timothy back to Thessalonica, to exhort the brethren concerning their faith, and to caution them not to be moved by his afflictions? 1 Thess. iii. 2, 3. The truth is, the dan the Thessalonians were in,
of being moved by the specious reasonings of the philosophers addressed to their prejudices, was great, and would have required the presence of the apostle himself to fortify them. But as the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles were greatly enraged against him, he could not return, but employed Timothy to perform that office; which he was well qualified to do, by his extraordinary talents and endowments. Timothy, therefore, returning to Thessalonica, gave the brethren the necessary exhortations and encouragements, which no doubt proved of great use to many.
During this second visit to the Thessalonians, Timothy had an opportunity of hearing from the philosophers themselves, the objections which they urged against Paul's character and behaviour, together with the arguments whereby they endeavoured to disprove the gospel. So that when he came to the apostle at Corinth, we may suppose he explained the whole to him with greater precision than formerly ; and added, that although the sophists had endeavoured to shake the faith of the Thessalonians, they had stood firm hitherto, and had borne the persecution with admirable patience, 1 Thess. iii. 6. Nevertheless, being young converts, they were but ill fitted to maintain their cause against such powerful opponents, either in the way of arguing or of suffering, unless they were properly assisted. Indeed the apostle himself, when he fled from Thessalonica, was so sensible of this, that during his abode in Bercea, he had endeavoured once and again to return to Thessalonica, that he might strengthen his converts, by defending the gospel against the cavils of the men of learning; but Satan hindered him, 1 Thess. ii. 18. Wherefore, to supply to the Thessalonian brethren the want of his presence and counsels, he wrote them from Corinth this his first epistle, in which he furnished them with a formal proof of the divine original of the gospel, intermixed with answers to the objections, which we suppose the learned Greeks, who made the gospel a subject of disputation, raised against its evidences; together with a vindication of his own conduct, in fleeing from Thessalonica, when the Jews and the idolatrous multitude assaulted the house of Jason, in which he and his assistants lodged.
This account of the apostle's design in writing his first epistle to the Thessalonians, and of the subjects handled in it, I acknowledge is not explicitly declared in the epistle itself. But in the essay on St. Paul's manner of writing, I have shewed that it is not by any formal declaration, but by the nature of the things written, that he commonly discovers the purpose for which he wrote. This is the case, particularly, in the first epistle to the Thessalonians, where the nature of the things written clearly leads us to consider it as a proof of the divine original of the gospel, and a refutation of the objections raised against the gospel and its preachers : for the whole sentiments evidently point toward these objects; and viewed in that light, the language in which they are clothed exhibits a clear unambi. guous meaning, as shall be shewed in the illustrations prefixed to the several chapters. Not to mention, that, on supposition the apostle had these objects in view when he wrote this epistle, many of his expressions acquire a beauty, and energy, which entirely disappear when we lose sight of the apostle's design. To these things add, that the long apology which the apostle makes for his sudden fight from Thessalonica, together with the many warm expressions of his affection to the Thessalonians, which take up a considerable part of the second, and the whole of the third chapters, appear with the greatest propriety, considered as a vindication of the apostle's conduct as a missionary from God; whereas, in any other light, these particulars appear to be introduced for no purpose. Since, therefore, the things written in the first epistle to the Thessalonians, form a regular and connected proof of the divine original of the gospel, there can be no doubt of the apostle's intending that proof, both for the confirmation of the faith of the Thessalonians, and for enabling them to convince unbelievers.
The subjects handled in this epistle, being matters in which all the brethren throughout the province of Macedonia were equally concerned with the Thessalonians, the apostle ordered it to be read to all the holy brethren ; chap. v. 27. that is, it was to be read publicly, not only in the church of the Thessalonians, but to the brethren in Philippi and Beræa, and in all the other cities in the province of Macedonia, where churches were planted. Nay, it was intended to be shewed to the unbelieving inhabitants of that province, whose curiosity might lead them to inquire into the causes of the rapid progress of the gospel, or whose malice might incline them to impugn the Christian faith; at least, the things written in this epistle are evidently answers, which the Thessalonians were to give to such as required a reason of the faith that was in them.
Before this section is finished, it may be proper to remark, that the proof of the divine original of the gospel, contained in the first epistle to the Thessalonians, being written by one of the greatest inspired preachers of the gospel, and being designed for the consideration of persons celebrated for their genius and learning, it will ever merit the attention of the friends of the Christian revelation, and should not be overlooked by its enemies; because it may be supposed to exhibit the principal arguments on which the Christian preachers themselves built their pretensions as missionaries from God, and, by which they so effectually destroyed the prevailing idolatry, and turned great numbers of the heathens every where, to the faith and worship of the true God.
of the Subjects treated in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians; and of the Persons mentioned in the Inscription, as the Writers of this Epistle.
In the opinion of the best critics and chronologers, this being one of the first inspired writings which the Apostle Paul addressed to the Greeks, whose philosophical genius led them to examine matters of science and opinion with the greatest accuracy, he very properly chose for the subject of it, the proofs by which the gospel is shewed to be a revelation from God. The reason is, by furnishing a clear and concise view of the evidences of the gospel, he not only confirmed the Thessalonians themselves in the faith thereof, as a revelation from God, but enabled them to persuade others also of its divine original; or, at least, he taught them how to confute their adversaries, who, by misrepresentations and false reasonings, endeavoured to overthrow the gospel.
The arguments proposed in this epistle, for proving the divine original of the Christian revelation, are the four following. 1. That many and great miracles were wrought by the preachers of the gospel, professedly for the purpose of demonstrating, that they were commissioned by God to preach it to the world.-2. That the apostles and their assistants, by preaching the gospel, brought upon themselves, every where, all manner of present evils, without obtaining the least worldly advantage, either in possession or in prospect: That in preaching this new doctrine, they did not, in any respect, accommodate it to the prevailing inclinations of their hearers, nor encourage them in their