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The Apostle is here exhorting the Church, to the blessed Fruits, and Effects, of Regeneration. He sweetly comforts the Lord's People, on the Subject of the Body sleeping in Jesus.
(1) ¶ Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. (2) For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. (3) For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: (4) That everyone of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; (5) Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: (6) That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. (7) For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. (8) He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
In the opening of this Chapter, we find the Apostle, calling upon the Church, to exercise those distinguishing features of character, which are the immediate fruits of regeneration. If we live in the spirit, let us also walk in the spirit. Now, for the better apprehension of the subject itself, as well as the special arguments, by which alone the Apostle calls upon believers to the practice of holiness; I very earnestly beg the Reader to attend to what the Apostle, hath said, in these verses. First. It is to the Church Paul here speaks; and not unto the unawakened, carnal, and ungodly world. He considers them as in a state of regeneration; for he saith as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and please God. A plain proof that he considered them as such, who from being called out of the Adam-nature of sin, had received Christ Jesus as the whole of salvation; and were looking to him for grace in the exercise of all gospel sanctification. Secondly. As the principle of the new life by regeneration, was wrought in the heart; so the effect of it would manifest itself in the life, in all holy conversation, and godliness. Nothing can be more manifest, that this is the whole drift of the Apostle's precept. As ye have received of us how ye ought to walk. There can be no walk, for there is no life, in one, dead in trespasses and sins. But, as the Church was no longer dead in trespasses and sins; so, from the new life imparted, it was expected, suitable actions of life would appear. Ye have received of us the knowledge of these things; look to it then, that there be a suitable correspondence.
And this appears with yet further evidence, from what follows. For this is the will of God even your sanctification. God's will is, that Christ is made of God unto his people, wisdom, righteousness. sanctification, and redemption. 1 Corinthians 1:30 . Then, as this is God's will, and Christ is the sanctification of his people; this life of Christ in the soul, will manifest itself, in all corresponding conduct. Christ reigns, and rules within; and is the source of everything blessed to his people. Hence, therefore, it is known from the actions without, that Christ reigns within. For they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. Galatians 5:24 .
And, it should be observed yet further, that the sins of our corrupt nature, which the Gentiles were much addicted to, were not considered by them, in the light which the Gospel regarded. Hence Paul, writing to a Church chiefly gathered from Gentiles, found occasion, more particularly to advert to this subject. And where the Holy Spirit was given, which a state of regeneration implies, it became an interesting part of the Apostle's exhortations, to show the Church, how effectually his Almighty power was manifested, in the lives of God's people, in that work of the new-birth, wrought upon the heart. Agreeably to what John, the beloved Apostle, taught, whoever is born of God, doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin because he is born of God. 1 John 3:9 . Reader! it is very blessed to see, where the security of God's people is found; that all strength in a life of grace, and righteousness, may be sought for only from the Lord! For further views on sanctification see 2 Thessalonians 2:13 .
(9) ¶ But as touching brotherly love ye need not that I write unto you: for ye yourselves are taught of God to love one another. (10) And indeed ye do it toward all the brethren which are in all Macedonia: but we beseech you, brethren, that ye increase more and more; (11) And that ye study to be quiet, and to do your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you; (12) That ye may walk honestly toward them that are without, and that ye may have lack of nothing.
I do not think it necessary to offer a single observation upon these verses. Brotherly love towards one another in those who are members of Christ's body, is not only a principle which carries with it, its own conviction, but is so strongly enforced, from the very relationship in which those members are knit to each other; that, as the Apostle saith, it is not needful to write upon it. Truly regenerated, souls, are one in Christ. And where they are so, there can be no schism. The sorrow, or joy, which one hath, all must partake in; if this membership be truly a living principle. 1 Corinthians 12:25-26 . And, in relation to Church members, walking honestly toward them that are without; it were a reproach to the name of Christ, if the ungodly had any charge to bring against them. Very sweet to this purpose, is that comprehensive exhortation, by the Holy Ghost to the Church: that whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report; believers in Christ are expected above all men, to be eminent in the practice of these things. Philippians 4:8 .
(13) ¶ But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. (14) For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. (15) For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. (16) For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: (17) Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (18) Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
Perhaps there is not a more affectionate passage in the word of God, to soothe the sorrows of our nature, under the humbling prospect of the grave, in the death of our friends, and the sure departure of ourselves, than what God the Holy Ghost hath here given to the Church, by his servant the Apostle. I have often read it, with, I hope, profit and delight. And I do not conceive, that a child of God, under divine teaching, can ever read it, but at every renewed perusal, with increasing comfort.
It appears, that the Church of the Thessalonians had very imperfect apprehensions, on the interesting subject of the dead in Christ. And it was our mercy, that their ignorance gave occasion to God the Spirit, to teach the Church, what is here so blessedly explained, concerning it. The first thing I beg the Reader to remark with me, in the passage, is, the expression, of being asleep in Jesus. He doth not call it death, but sleep. It is remarkable, that in relation to the death of Lazarus, Jesus called it sleep. Our friend Lazarus, sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep! See John 11:11 . and Commentary. The blessed dead, which die in Christ, die in union with his Person. As such, they are part of Christ. The voice John heard from heaven, declared this, and bid the beloved Apostle write it down. Revelation 14:13 . Hence, this is more properly called sleep, than death; for by virtue of this union, there is a principle, by which they are still part of Christ, and by which the Lord becomes to them at the last day, the resurrection and the life. John 11:5 . So that, in death, or life, Christ is the believer's portion; and the believer is a member of Christ's mystical body. And this oneness, union, and interest in Christ, so totally differs from the Christless dead, that the Holy Ghost is pleased to call it sleep, rather than death. They sleep in Jesus.
Secondly. The Holy Ghost by Paul, commands the Church concerning all such, that the sorrow which surviving believers feel, in their departure, is not to be as the grief of those who mourn over the hopeless dead. The Lord doth not forbid all sorrow; for the Lord allows nature's feelings to have vent. And Jesus, himself wept at the grave of Lazarus. John 11:25 . But the tears of God's people, shed over the remains of the dead which die in the Lord, are like the spiced wine of the Pomegranate. The tears of nature, are sweetened in Christ. There is a blessed hope, yea, an assured hope, they shall again live. See a beautiful account by Job, (Job 14:13-15 .)
Thirdly. The belief in Christ's resurrection, brings up after it, a full assurance, of the resurrection of all his members. They who sleep in Jesus, must arise with Jesus. For Christ died, and arose, as the common head of his body the Church. Not as a private person; but in a public capacity. Hence, in his resurrection, the Church, in every individual member, is included; for Christ was declared to be the first fruits of them that sleep. For to this end, (saith the Holy Ghost by Paul,) Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. Romans 14:9 . See 1 Corinthians 15:0 and Commentary.
Fourthly. There is somewhat particularly striking, in the Apostle's manner of expression on this subject, when he saith: For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord. It is not said when Paul received this message to deliver to the Church. Neither doth he make any other preface, by way of introduction. But, it should seem, from the words themselves, that though all the Apostle delivered to the Church, was in the Lord's name, and by the Lord's authority; yet he had now somewhat to deliver on this subject, of the resurrection of the bodies of saints sleeping in Jesus: and of the change to be wrought on the bodies of saints, which would be found alive at the last day; which he had not had either the knowledge of himself before, or direction to communicate to the Church. Hence, like the Prophets of old, who frequently, in the midst of their preaching, called up the attention of the Church yet more strikingly, with breaking off, and saying; Thus saith the Lord: so Paul here adopts a similar manner of expression, and saith: For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord. Reader! we have great cause to bless God the Spirit, for this special revelation, on a subject so very interesting, both to ourselves, and to all the Members of Christ's mystical body, whereby we learn, under divine teaching, wherefore we ought not to sorrow, concerning the departed in Christ, as others that have no hope. And I pray the Reader, to be particularly attentive, to the very blessed manner, in which God the Holy Ghost hath taught the Church, on those most momentous points.
The Apostle begins with the state of those saints of God, which are found in the body at Christ's Coming. We (saith he) which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. Now, let the Reader observe, that by the we, which are alive; Paul did not mean himself, or any of the Church of God then living. For, in his second Epistle to this same Church, he positively declared to them, that the day of Christ was not at hand. For (saith he) that day shall not come except there come a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition. 1 Thessalonians 2:1-3 . But Paul speaks in the name of the Church, in that part of Christ's members which shall be alive, when Christ comes to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe. 2 Thessalonians 1:10 . Hence, by the way, we are taught, that there shall be a portion of Christ's mystical body alive, at his second coming.
The Apostle next proceeds, in the name of the Lord, to show the Church, how they are to be disposed of, who pass not through the territories of death, and the grave, to the embraces of Christ. We shall not prevent them (saith Paul) which are asleep. The word prevent is an old English word, and means, to go before: we shall not be first changed, before the dead which sleep in Jesus shall be awakened to Christ's arms. This is a sweet thought, on every account. For it shows the watchful care of Jesus over his sleeping members; and becomes a blessed comment of the Lord's own, on that sweet Scripture: Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints. Psalms 116:15 . And it is blessed on another account. The living members of Christ's mystical body, will find their spirits abundantly strengthened, in beholding the dead in Christ arise to the wonders of eternity. And what joy will burst forth, at the second voice of the Archangel, and the trump of God! Yea, what inexpressible emotions will be felt by all the living in Christ, at that time, when they shall see Jesus personally descending from heaven, in all the splendor, as here described, of glory?
Next, Paul describes the wonderful change, after the dead in Christ have first risen, which will instantly follow, on the bodies of the saints then living. Then we (saith he) which are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. And so shall we ever be with the Lord! The Apostle doth not say how the change of our vile bodies, which have not gone down to the grave, shall be accomplished. It is sufficient for the Church to know, that it shall be done: though the process we are not made acquainted with. But, as those bodies of the saints, which are sown in corruption, are promised to be raised in incorruption; and their natural bodies, raised spiritual bodies: 1 Corinthians 15:44 . we are led to conclude, the same change will be accomplished, though not in the same way: So that all the members of Christ's mystical body, shall be alike prepared, and qualified, for the everlasting enjoyment of God in glory. Oh! what unknown felicity will the saints of God be brought into, when those bodies, which now interrupt the spiritual pleasures of the renewed soul, will interrupt them no more; yea, then will join in all their enjoyments. Well might the Apostle add: wherefore comfort, or exhort one another with these words. Let God's people, under all bereaving providences, when at any time the Lord takes home any of his redeemed ones; let them call to remembrance, what God the Holy Ghost hath here so sweetly, and fully unfolded: they that live in Christ by regeneration, sleep in Jesus at death till the resurrection. They are part of Christ; and whether living or dying, in life or death, they are the Lord's. And they whom the Lord appoints to be alive in the body, at his coming, shall be instantly changed into a glorified body in Christ, as those of Christ's which arise at the voice of the Archangel, and the trump of God. Both shall be equally blessed in Christ; and be everlastingly happy with him, in glory. See Jude 1:9 .
READER! what a blessed consideration is it, to the renewed soul in Christ, that He who is made of God to us wisdom, and righteousness; is no less our sanctification, and redemption? And, it is among the most blessed of all thoughts, and which God the Holy Ghost is forever impressing on the minds of his people, that our oneness and union with the Lord Jesus, brings up after it, an interest, in all that belongs to him as Christ. Our union with his Person, gives a security to our life in him, our graces from him, and our everlasting happiness with him; for assuredly, where He is, there must his members be. Precious Jesus may I never lose sight of those gracious assurances of thine. Because I live ye shall live also.
Blessed Lord the Spirit! thanks to thee, for sending thy servant to teach the Church, how to regulate our sorrows, when under bereaving providences. Never let my soul mourn anymore when any die in the Lord. Tears may fall. Yea, Jesus will not be displeased when they fall. It is the funeral of nature. And Jesus, who wept himself at Lazarus's tomb, will not be angry if any weep at mine. But grace triumphs. It is not death, but sleep, yea, a sweet refreshing sleep, when Jesus calls home his members. But while we hear the voice which John heard, we may write it as the inscription on the graves of the saints. Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord! And, as sure as they sleep in Jesus; so sure God will bring them with Jesus in that day when he comes. And ye members of Christ, who are yet unborn, whom Jesus shall appoint to be alive at his coming; ye also shall partake in the triumphs of his coming. Though ye go not down to the grave, yet will the Lord change your vile bodies, under which ye groan, and fashion them like unto his glorious body; according to the power whereby he is able to subdue all things to himself. Lord! give grace to thy Church, that amidst all the dying circumstances of thy people her below, we may be able to comfort, and to exhort one another with these words!
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Hawker, Robert, D.D. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 4". "Hawker's Poor Man's Commentary". https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27