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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 prefixéd, 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 in
terested 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 suspicion 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, requiring 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. 14. 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, consia dering 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 earnest 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 : insoniuch that even the heathens, in process of time, regarded them with admiration, on account of their virtues.
CHAPTER I. View and Illustration of the Subjects treated in the first Chapter of
this Epistle. The Apostle's design in this epistle, as was shewed in the preface, sect. 3. being to furnish the Thessalonian brethren with a proof of the divine original of the gospel, both for establishing themselves, and for convincing unbelievers, he elegantly introduced his subject, by declaring that he gave thanks to God at all times, or daily, for their faith, and love, and perseverance of hope, which he told them was an evidence of their election by God to be his people, although they did not obey the law of Moses, ver. 2, 3, 4.-Then, to make the Thessalonians sensible that their faith in the gospel was well founded, he put them in mind of the arguments by which they had been induced to receive the gospel as the word of God.
The first argument which he mentions is, That the gospel had been offered to the Thessalonians, not in word, or preaching only, but in preaching accompanied with great and evident miracles, performed in their presence; and with the gifts of the Holy Ghost, communicated to them after they believed. And these miracles and supernatural gifts, he affirms had wrought in them much assurance, that is, the strongest persuasion of the truth of the gospel; in which persuasion they were confirmed by the holy disinterested behaviour of the preachers of the gospel, ver. 5.—But this being a branch of his second argument, the apostle only mentions it here, referring the more full consideration of it to chap. ii.--He adds, that the Thessalonians had shewed the strength of their faith by imitating the apostles, and the Lord Jesus, in suffering much affliction for the gospel with joy, ver. 6.-80 that they were patterns of faith and fortitude, to all the brethren in the provinces of Macedonia and Achaia, ver. 7.-Farther, he affirms that from them the fame of the gospel had resounded, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place, their faith in one God only was spoken of as a thing very extraordinary, ver. 8.—that their fellow-citizens, who had carried the news of their having changed their religion, into distant countries, had told at the same time, in what manner the preachers of the new religion had entered, and established themselves among the Thessalonians; that they had done it by great and evident miracles : and that the Thessalonians, struck with these miracles, had turned from idols, and were become the worshippers of the living and true God, ver. 9.-and looked for the return of his Son from heaven, who, as the preachers of the gos