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The Apostle opens his Epistle with his usual Salutations. He tells the Thessalonians, how earnest his Prayers were for the Church. And he teacheth them to observe the Marks of their Election, by the blessed Effects of it.
(1) ¶ Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians which is in God the Father and in the Lord Jesus Christ: Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ. (2) ¶ We give thanks to God always for you all, making mention of you in our prayers; (3) Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father;
It is worthy observation, the great humbleness of Paul's mind. Though so eminently distinguished by the Lord, as an Apostle; he fails not to take into union with himself, the faithful brethren. Oh! how sweet is it to behold the testimonies of grace manifested in the affections of the Lord's people!
(4) Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. (5) For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. (6) ¶ And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost: (7) So that ye were ensamples to all that believe in Macedonia and Achaia. (8) For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything. (9) For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God; (10) And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.
When the Reader hath duly pondered the marks, and characters, by which the election, according to grace, is known in the soul, as the Apostle hath here noted them; I shall request his attention to the subject itself. It is a most decided testimony, which God the Holy Ghost hath elsewhere given, by which the elect of God are known. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate, to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born, among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. Romans 8:29-30 .
First. - I beg the Reader to notice, one by one, the marks and characters of election, which God the Holy Ghost, hath here shown to be the true standard, by which the Church of God, as well as the Church of the Thessalonians, might know the blessed truth. The Apostle begins with that decided testimony, in that the Gospel came not in word only, but in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and much assurance! Reader! do not fail to note this down in the deepest memorandums of your heart. Yea, beg of God the Spirit to do it for you. Oh! how unanswerably conclusive is it, when a child of God is quickened under the word of God, which is the sword of the Spirit. When, like Lydia, the Lord opens the heart, and gives the hearing ear, and the seeing eye; so that he finds the word, quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword. All before this, made no impression upon his mind. But, when the Lord came in the word, and by the word; he finds the powerful, quickening, illuminating, sanctifying, and renewing teachings; and cries out with David: I shall never forget thy precepts, for with them thou hast quickened me. Psalms 119:93 ; 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 ; Heb 4:12 ; 1 Corinthians 14:23-25 .
Secondly. Another evidence, which follows the former, the Apostle hath here noted, as the way, whereby the child of God shall know his election; namely, when the regenerated heart is enabled to discern God's faithful servants coming to them in the Lord's name. Ye know (saith Paul) what manner of men we were among you. Souls truly awakened, know the joyful sound; and walk in the light of God's countenance. My sheep hear my voice, saith Jesus, and they follow me. A stranger they will not follow, for they know not the voice of strangers. John 10:3-5 . It is a most decided mark, whereby we know our election of God, when we cannot receive false doctrines, nor follow teachers, unsent of the Lord. The glorious, and discriminating truths of grace, the elect of God delight in. They are regenerated, and therefore they know, from their own souls' experience, what manner of men those among them are, who hold up Christ, as the One only Ordinance of Heaven: Who inculcate among their people, salvation in his blood and righteousness, without works: Who exclude all other topics, as Christ and his Apostle excluded them; determining to know nothing among men, but Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And from the same reasons as Paul did; because they know Christ, and Christ alone, to be the wisdom of God, and the power of God, for salvation to everyone that believeth. Men, unacquainted with the plague of their own heart, and being vainly puffed up with their fleshly mind, will attempt in themselves, and recommend to others, to compliment God, with talking of the remains of somewhat within, that is good. But the truly regenerated, have learnt, and are daily learning, both in themselves, and all others, that the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; yea, so wicked, that none can know it; in the depths of wickedness, in their unrenewed body of flesh, but He who searcheth the heart, and trieth the reins. Jeremiah 17:9-10 ; Revelation 2:23; Revelation 2:23 . Reader! do not overlook this second mark, whereby the brethren beloved know their election of God, they follow that pure preaching, which is the truth as it is in Jesus; and they follow such only under the Lord the Spirits teaching, who preach Christ, and Christ only, the One Ordinance of God's own providing, for the elect of God.
Thirdly. The elect of God, are said to know of this distinguishing mercy over them, in having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost. This is a very precious, and most decisive testimony. And the more so, because it is personal, and peculiar to God's elect. They who are for throwing into the back ground, as much as possible, those glorious proofs of God's sovereignty, in electing grace, and predestinating his chosen, to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself; Ephesians 1:4-5 . know nothing of what the Apostle hath here said, of receiving, the word in much affliction, and yet in joy of the Holy Ghost. These are contradictions in such men's view. For they know nothing more of receiving either the written word, or the uncreated Word, but in a whole unbroken heart, unconscious of the depth of the plague of it; and unconscious that Christ is the sole healer. Exodus 15:26 . And, where there are slight views of sin, there will be but small affliction in the remembrance of it. Such never can receive the word which is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any two edged sword, Hebrews 4:12 . in much affliction. And, as they that are soul-whole, cannot receive the word in much affliction; so the joy of the Holy Ghost is unfelt, and unknown, by all such characters; for they have never learnt, from that Almighty Spirit, that salvation is in no other but Jesus Christ. Reader! it will be your mercy, if you have not so learned Christ. If you know your election of God, in having received the word in much affliction; you can tell me, or rather your own soul, how deeply you lay under the convictions of sin, and your own conscience, when you saw sin in all its tremendous consequences, as you stood in yourself, before God. And you also can tell, what kind of joy of the soul that was, when first the Day-spring from on high visited you. Joy, indeed, of the Holy Ghost, when the Lord shows a poor sinner, that there is more in Christ to justify before God, than there is sin in the soul to condemn. Such will know their election, having received the word in much affliction, and with joy of the Holy Ghost. But a heart unbroke by sin, can neither know Christ's redemption from it, nor the elating love of God in it.
Fourthly. A child of God knows his election of God, in being led by the Spirit, so as to become an ensample to all that believe. This is a very blessed testimony to the adoption-character of the Lord's people. For the Holy Ghost laid it down, as a most decided proof of sonship; that as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God. Romans 8:14 . And this, and this only, becomes the security of a child of God, to be an example of the believers in word, in conversation, in charity, in faith, in purity, 1 Timothy 4:12 . There can be no dependence, for the exercise of any single grace, but in the Spirit. If we live in the Spirit, we shall also walk in the Spirit. But without the Spirit, not a single affection of our fallen sinful nature, can we either mortify, or subdue. Romans 8:13 . They who talk otherwise, are unacquainted with the plague of their own heart. To address the ungodly with exhortation to good works, manifests the blindness of their own minds. The Apostle's testimony in this scripture, of a state of election, and the proof of it, in being ensamples, is ensamples to all that believe. What hath this to do with the unregenerate? Reader! note these things, and consider their importance.
Fifthly. The Apostle adds another very delightful testimony, whereby the beloved brethren know their election of God, when he saith, that from them sounded out the word of the Lord in every place, so that their faith to God-ward was spread abroad. This is not simply confined to preachers of the word, when sent by the Holy Ghost; but means the conversation of the godly in every place, when, from the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh. Every child of God, when regenerated himself, will delight to converse with all that are regenerated. And the language of his heart is expressed in the words of the Holy Ghost: Come and hear, all ye that fear God and I will declare what he hath done for my soul. Psalms 66:16 . This is to sound out the word of the Lord, and to give testimony of our election of God. And, while this marks the features of character, in all that are regenerated: all that are sent out to preach the Gospel by the Holy Ghost, (and it is awful in any to preach it unsent by him,) hold forth the word of life, by preaching, not offering Christ. It is their province to preach Christ. It belongs only to the Holy Ghost to offer, and give power to accept Christ, to his people. Hence, Paul's sermon was preached to all that heard it; but it was sent to the children of the stock of Abraham, and whosoever among them feared God. Acts 13:26 ; Galatians 3:29 .
I hope by this time the Reader is led to see, how very blessedly the Holy Ghost, by his servant the Apostle, hath given the marks, and evidences, in this Chapter, by which the Church then, and by the same tokens now, may know their election of God. But, while we find cause to bless God, both for the revelation of the doctrine itself, and the way by which all his children in grace may discover their personal interest in it; I would take occasion, from the very plain, and decided manner, in which the Holy Ghost hath here marked it down, to offer an observation or two upon it. And I confess, that I am the more prompted to this service, from the consideration of the awful day in which the Church of God now dwells; when the glorious truths of our holy faith, in which consists the whole life, and spirit of the Gospel of Christ, are so lightly esteemed and regarded.
First. I beg the Reader to remark with me, that the election, and choice of the Church in Christ, is revealed in, and through, the whole word of God, as the distinguished act of God the Father; and as the result of his own sovereignty, will, and pleasure. The Bible is full of proofs to testify, that the manifold wisdom of God, should be made known to the Church in this way, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed, in Christ Jesus our Lord. Ephesians 3:10-11 . So that, each glorious Person, in these high and solemn transactions, as they relate to the Church, might be known, in their several acts of grace, towards the Lord's people. God the Father in election, God the Son in redemption, and God the Holy Ghost in regeneration, according to the good pleasure of his will. I stay not to make quotations in proof, for this would be little otherwise than bringing forth the whole Bible. Let the Reader consult a few. Deuteronomy 10:14-15 ; Isaiah 43:21 ; Malachi 1:2-3 ; Ephesians 1:4-10 .
Secondly. It is very blessed to observe, how Christ spake of election, preached it, and delighted in it. Speaking of his people, he calls them God's own elect. Luke 18:7 . Speaking of them as precious in his sight, Jesus doth this in a peculiar sweet, and gracious manner, as being his Father's gift. Thine they were, and thou gavest them me. John 17:6 . I pray for them I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine; and all mine are thine, and thine are mine, and I am glorified in them. John 17:9-10 . Speaking to them, Jesus said: Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you. If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me, before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. John 15:18-19; John 15:18-19 .
So in like manner in his preaching. The very first sermon Christ preached in the Jewish Synagogue, after taking his text from the prophecy of Isaiah, and applying the words of the Prophet to himself; he immediately opened his discourse with the doctrine of election. Many, widows (said Jesus) were in Israel in the days of Elias, but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, to a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the Prophet, and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian. And what I beg the Reader to observe with me concerning this preaching of election by Christ; is this, that it brought upon him the same condemnation as it doth invariably upon all his sent servants, both then and now. As long as the Son of God held forth the words of the Prophet concerning salvation, and made application of it to himself, it is said, that all bare him witness, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. But no sooner did Christ preach the doctrine of election, in showing that God sent his servant but to one poor widow, and one poor leper in Israel; they understood what Christ meant, and we read, that all they in the synagogue were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust him out of the city, and led him to the brow of the hill, intending to cast him down headlong. Luke 4:16-30 . Such is the bitterness in every man's heart by nature against the precious doctrine of election, though Christ himself be the preacher. Reader! do you know of the like bitterness against it now in you? Certainly it was so once?
And if it be not so now, it is sovereign grace alone that hath rooted it out. Well do I remember, and in the remembrance bless God for the change, when my proud, unhumbled heart, rose up in daring rebellion against it! And well, therefore, May I now forbear anger against those who oppose it, when I call to mind how very long the graciousness of my God forbore with me. I do lament, however, when, at any time, I hear of young, presumptuous men, who are just come forth of the shell of human education, daringly preach against a doctrine they know nothing of, though many of them have subscribed to support it. It is awful to hear such setting up their bold opinion against the Sovereignty of God, and presuming to charge those whom God hath taught and sent to preach the everlasting, unchanging love of God to his Church, as showing too much regard to the doctrines of election, predestination, and the decrees of God. Upon all those occasions, I would pray for grace to follow the Holy Ghost's directions concerning the ministry. The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness, instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance (as I bless his holy name he hath me,) to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. 2 Timothy 2:24-26 .
Once more. I observed that our dear Lord not only spoke of election, and preached it, but that he delighted in it. And what an higher proof can we have of his great pleasure therein, than in the instance we have upon record, when he expressed himself to his divine Father, for the manifestation of his electing love to his disciples, in those memorable words: At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight. Matthew 11:25-26 . Reader! pause, I beseech you, over the solemn subject, for it is most solemn! Did it seem good in God the Father's sight, to make such distinguishing proofs of his electing and predestinating will and pleasure, as to hide it from the wise in their own eyes, and the prudent in their own conceit, and reveal his precious truths to babes in Christ? Did Jesus delight so much in this electing love, as to thank the Father for such displays of it? Doth the Holy Ghost abound towards the elect Church of God in Christ, as to have made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself? Ephesians 1:8-9 . And shall not the Church of God, to whom these precious truths are made known, while hidden from the world, take delight in them, and thank God for them also? Shall there be any, to whom, by regenerating grace, the Lord hath made known this mystery of his will, be silent and regardless of such unspeakable mercy? Shall we not, on the contrary, while overwhelmed with the contemplation, cry out with the astonished Apostle: Lord! how is it that thou hast manifested thyself unto me, and not unto the world? John 14:22 .
May I be permitted upon so interesting a subject to trespass a little longer, I would add to all that hath been said, that the doctrine of God's election, so truly scriptural, so truly blessed, and so very full, in confirmation of God's sovereignty, carries with it a certain degree of evidence, independent of every other, from the universal hatred, which all men in a state of unrenewed nature uniformly bear against it. Since the Lord in mercy brought me to the knowledge of himself, and into an acquaintance with the plague of my own heart, I have been led into this discovery also. It appears most decidedly, that the former hatred I had to this sovereignty of Jehovah in election, and the universal hatred of all unregenerate minds to the same divine truth, is an additional testimony in its favor. Oh! how blessed it is, when to all the other glorious assurances of our most holy faith, the Lord gives us to see, that by grace we not only differ from ourselves in what we were before, but from the world. How blessedly to this point is that prayer of Jesus. I have given them thy word, and the world hath hated them because they are not of the world, even as I am not of the world! John 17:14 .
Reader! perhaps I shall surprise you by what I am going to observe, but the fact is most certain and sure. Amidst all the hatred of mankind, in every instance of the unawakened and unregenerate, throughout the whole earth, to the doctrine of God's sovereignty in election, God hath so constructed the human mind in such a way and manner, that he absolutely overrules every son and daughter of Adam, from the first dawn of reason to the close of life, in acting or thinking, to practice election in all they say or do; and this every day, and hour of the day, during the whole of their existence upon earth. There is not an action, or design; there is not a motive of conduct in thought, word, or deed, more or less, but what manifests in the whole race of men, their election to one way rather than to another; whether they walk or talk, go hither or thither, associate with this rather than that, eat of one food rather than another and, in short, in the whole tenor of their daily pursuits, habits, dress, and all the circumstances of life; choice, and election guides them in all. So, then, while every man, yea, every child is guided by the capricious whim and purpose of his own heart, to make his daily election, as his wayward humor guide him; the Lord, who is the only Being that, from his unerring wisdom, cannot make a wrong choice, shall be the only One, according to man's daring presumption, which shall be restrained from making his election. Is not this the real state of the case? And can anything more fully demonstrate the awfulness of man's fall by sin, which hath induced such tremendous effects in his very nature? And doth not this wonderful display of divine wisdom, by overruling the human mind to do that which he denies his Creator to do, seem to say, as if the Lord would convict such daring sinners to their face, by making them continually practice themselves, what they call in question and arraign in their Maker. And when we consider, that it is in election only the Lord thus compels the whole earth to the practice, in whatever country or clime, whatever form or constitution of religion, or none; wherever a human being is found, the very nature of man is such, that he shall practice election; doth it not, I say, seem to intimate the Lord's overruling such a wonderful event to his own glory; that while all the race of men by nature hate God's election, they shall condemn themselves by their own daily practice of it, and thus, however unconscious, bear, their unwilling testimony to the great truth. Reader! see to it once more, whether the Apostle's marks are in your own testimony, and that you can say to yourself, as he did to the Church; Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God!
READER! is it our privilege, like this Church, to give thanks to God always for the divine grace, and mercy, and love, bestowed upon us? Can it be said to you, and to me, as the Apostle did to the Thessalonians, in the remembrance of our work of faith, and labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God our Father? Can we with full assurance of faith, and in the enjoyment of the same testimonies as Paul here marked down, take up the well-grounded confidence of our election of God? Oh! then, let us see to it, that our faith in Jesus is a working faith, working by love. That our hope is that hope founded in Christ, and his blood, and righteousness, which maketh not ashamed. That our patience is that which the Apostle elsewhere describes, and which worketh experience. And in the exercise of which, we wait for the return of the Son of God from heaven, who hath delivered us from the wrath to come. This will be an honorable testimony to the Spirit's work in our heart, and will most plainly show, in the midst of the awful day in which we live, what manner of entering in the word of grace hath had in our souls; and how, through the regenerating power of the Spirit, the Lord hath turned our hearts from idols to serve the living and true God. Blessed be the electing love of God the Father, the redemption by Christ, and the quickening of God the Holy Ghost!
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 1". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany