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Bible Commentaries

Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT

1 Thessalonians 5

Verse 1

As if our apostle had said, "Although I have told you that there will be a general resurrection and future judgment, when Christ will certainly come in the clouds, and every eye shall see him, yet I suppose you do not expect that I should write to you of the particular time of his coming; for you have been told, that his coming will be like the coming of a thief, without warning and without noise, when persons are most secure, least suspecting, and wholly unprovided for it: yea, as the pains of a woman in travail, which are unavoidable; the thief may perhaps not come, but the pains of child-birth must come, and also be painful when they come."

Learn hence, 1. That the wisdom of God has thought fit to conceal and keep secret the determinate time of Christ's coming to judgment, and yet there is an itching curiosity in man's nature to search and pry into that profound secret, though the knowlege of it is not only impossible, but would prove unprofitable and hurtful to mankind, making the world secure and careless; wheras, not knowing the hour when our Lord cometh, should oblige us to be upon our watch every hour.

Note then, that our Lord will certainly come at one hour or other, but at what hour he will come cannot certainly be known, yet there is no hour when we can promise ourselves that he will not come.

Note, lastly, that the pain and sorrow, the trouble and horror which the day of the Lord will bring upon such as are unready and unprepared for it, no tongue can utter, no heart can conceive; the greatest of earthly and bodily torments and sorrows, such as the pangs of a woman in travail, being but weak shadows and slender representations of it, the day of the Lord cometh as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape.

Verse 4

Note here, the wisdom and holy caution of our apostle in his application to the Thessalonians; he had in the foregoing verses asserted the certainty and suddenness of Christ's coming, namely, to destroy Jerusalem, and to judge the world. Now, lest these Christians should be terrified in their minds, and shaken with apprehensions of fear from that sudden destruction he had mentioned, he casts in a seasonable word of comfort here in the words before us, assuring them that were sincere Christians amongst them, that how sudden soever the coming and appearance of Christ might be, yet it should not find them unready and unprepared for it, because they were not in darkness, but in the light, and were not children of the night, but of the day; that is, they were not now in a state of heathenism, but Christianity; they were not any longer in their gross and natural ignorance of God, as they were before conversion, but they were the children of the light and of the day; living and walking in the light of the gospel, and in all holiness of conversation.

Learn hence, that as sincere Christians are freed from the gross darkness of their natural state, from the darkness and ignorance of sin, and do walk in the light of a holy conversation, so their knowledge and practical holiness will be a good security against the terror of surprising afflictions, and particularly against the dread and terror of the day of judgment: Ye are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.

Verse 6

The apostle having acquainted the Thessalonians with the privilege of their converted state, that they were the children of the light, having received a light of knowlege, a light of grace and holiness, and a light of joy and comfort from the gospel, he comes next to infer the duties proper and suitable to persons in such a state:

First, negative, Let us not sleep, as do others; sleep is not proper for the day, but the night; the sleep here intended, is the sleep of sin, and of sinful security, whereby all the spiritual senses of a man are bound up, so that he is both unapprehensive of his duty, and regardless of his danger.

Secondly, positive, Let us watch and be sober; that is, let us be always ready and prepared for Christ's coming; and that we may be so, let us be found in the daily exercise of sobriety, at no time overcharged with surfeiting and drunkenness, and that day overtake us unawares; the exercise of these two graces, watchfulness and sobriety, do best together, and can hardly be separated one from another; he that is not sober, cannot be watchful; and he that is not watchful, can never be ready for Christ's coming: let us therefore (says the apostle) watch, and be sober.

Observe next, our apostle subjoins a reason to enforce his exhortation to watchfulness and sobriety, because sleep and drunkenness are works of darkness, performed in the night, and not suitable for the childeren of the day: They that sleep, sleep in the night; and they that are drunk, are drunken in the night. The old heathens had their Bacchanalia, their drunken feast in the night; and in the apostles time, drunkenness was so shameful a vice, that men were ashamed to be seen drunken in the daytime: But, Lord, to what a height of impudence is the intemperance of our age arrived, when Christians blush not to do that at mid-day, which heathens were ashamed of at midnight!

Observe farther, another reason suggested why we should be thus sober and watchful, namely, because our life is a spiritual warfare: 'Tis now a time of fighting, therefore not of sleeping, and intemperate eating and drinking; soldiers must be upon their guard and well-armed; accordingly St. Paul directs to the two principal pieces of spiritual armour, to guard the most noble and vital parts, namely, the head and the heart; the helmet for the head, the breast-plate for the heart; for these two being the chief fountains of life and sensation, the preserving of them safe is, in effect, the preserving of the whole man; and accordingly, the soldiers that were upon their watch, and kept sentinel, never stood without their helmet and breast-plate. In allusion to which, our apostle here directs us, as Christian soldiers, to put on the breast-plate of faith and love, and for an helmet, the hope of salvation, without which we can never be rightly and duly prepared for our spiritual warfare.

Note here, of what admirable use, faith, love, and hope, are to a Christian; faith fortifies against destructive temptations, love will preserve from apostacy and revolting, and hope will be of universal use unto us in the exercises of our Christian course; it will be a cordial to comfort us, a spur to quicken us, a staff to support us, a bridle to restrain us, a helmet to defend us: Therefore let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breast-plate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.

Verse 9

Observe here, 1. A reason enforcing the apostle's exhortation to holiness of life, For, or because God has not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by Jesus Christ.

Note here, 1. What a Christian is not appointed to; he is not appointed to wrath.

2. What he is appointed to, namely, to obtain salvation.

3. The means by whom a Christian doth obtain salvation, and that is by our Lord Jesus Christ.

Learn, hence, that God's ordination and appointment of us to happiness and salvation, doth not discharge us from care and endeavour after the practice of universal holiness; it is the greatest piece of folly imaginable, from the appointment of the end, to infer the refusal or neglect of the means.

Learn, 2. That our Lord Jesus is the person appointed by God the Father, by whom alone all believers shall obtain salvation.

Learn, 3. That nothing short of the death of Christ was sufficient to purchase salvation for us, we obtain salvation by Jesus Christ, who died for us.

Learn, 4. That the great end designed by Christ in dying for us, was our living to him, in order to our living with him; a life of grace on earth, is our evidence for a life of glory in heaven; whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.

Observe lastly, the great and important duty which he exhorts the Thessalonians to perform mutually to each other, and that is, to comfort themselves together with this hope, and to edify and build up one another in faith and holiness; wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, as also ye do; implying, that as it is the duty, so it ought to be the endeavour of Christians to edify one another, both in their graces, and in their comforts.

Verse 12

In these words have we declared both the minister's office and the people's duty; the minister's office, with respect unto his people, and the people's duty both towards their ministers, and one towards another. The ministerial office and function is here described, and consists of three parts, publicly to labour, privately to admonish, ministerially to rule.

To labour in the word and doctrine, the word signifies a labour unto weariness. Our work is the most weighty work, and, blessed be God, the most worthy work too.

Admonition consists of two parts, reproving of sins committed, and exhorting to duties neglected; rightly to do both, requires that the minister be a person of knowlege and understanding, of prudence and discretion, of courage and resolution, of integrity, and unblameableness of conversation;

to rule not magisterially, much less tyrannically, but in love, and with a spirit of meekness, executing that power which Christ has given for edification, and not for destruction: such a power as the shepherd has over the flock, to guide and conduct it; as the head has over the members, to influence and quicken them; as the father of the family has over the household, to take care of it, and provide for it.

Observe, 2. The people's duty to their pastors, or spiritual guides, declared; and this is twofold:

1. They are to know them, and this with a knowlege of observation, and with a knowledge of approbation, and with a knowledge of imitation.

2. They are highly to esteem them, paying honour to the function, reverence to their persons, and all this in love, and for their work's sake.

Observe lastly, the people's duty one towards another, and be at peace among yourselves; such a people can never join hearts in duty that cannot join hands in love: Christian love is a nursing mother to all graces, and tends exceedingly to make the work of the ministry successful; but when strife and dissension, when discord and division prevails, either amongst the people themselves, or betwixt minister and people, farewell all expectations of success from the ablest ministry upon earth.

Verse 14

Here our apostle directs the ministers of Christ how to carry themselves towards their people, namely, that they should admonish those that are unruly and walk disorderly; that they should comfort the feeble-minded, such as are dispirited by, and rejected under their afflictions, that they should bear with the weak in faith, and be patient towards all mankind.

Note hence, that the church of Christ here on earth, is like a hospital of sickly and infirm persons, labouring under great variety of spiritual diseases, and consequently fit objects of Christ's ministers, to exercise their patience and pains upon; some unruly, some weak, some feeble-minded; every person, every member of the church is a patient, and every patient has his particular distemper, which calls for indefatigable diligence, and invincible patience, from such as are spiritual physicians.

Verse 15

Our apostle from this verse closes his epistle with a general exhortation to all Christians to be found in the practice of several necessary and important duties; the first of which is to abstain from all revenge, render to no man evil for evil; a malicious desire of revenge is so far beneath a Christian, that it is the baseness of a man. Let him that does the wrong look to it, could a heathen say. Not only revenge in the action, but in the affection, is greatly sinful before God, and deeply penal also; as jealousy is the rage of a man, so malice and revenge is the rage of the devil, it is the very soul and spirit of the apostate nature.

By good here, as it stands in opposition to rendering evil, must be understood good-will and beneficence, or doing good to enemies, and this the apostle would have us follow, or, as the word signifies, pursue with eagerness, as the hunter doth his game, and this continually. Ever follow that which is good, without interruption, notwithstanding a multiplication of injuries; and this not only among themselves, who were Christian professors, but even among heathens (with whom they lived) though bitter enemies to Christianity.

Learn hence, that a Christian must not turn vindictive and impatient, or incline to any desires or motions towards private revenge, notwithstanding the malicious temper of his adversary continues: but instead of being overcome of evil, must labour to overcome evil with good; render to no man evil for evil, but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves and to all men.

Verse 16

Observe here, 1. Three very extensive and comprehensive duties, which our apostle exhorts unto, all which have a kind of universality annexed unto them: now the more comprehensive any duty is, the greater its obligation is;

the first duty is to rejoice evermore, that is, to carry ourselves so holily toward God, and so circumspectly and unblameably before men, that we may always have cause for rejoicing, and in the midst of temptations, and in the midst of poverty and affliction, may actually rejoice in the expectation of present advantage by them, and in the hope of the glory of God, as the reward of them.

Learn hence, that the children of God ought to make conscience of rejoicing in God at all times, and in all conditions.

But is not there a time to mourn, as well as to rejoice?

Yes, but it is no where said, mourn evermore; nay, holy mourning has the seed of spiritual joy in it; it directly tends to it, and will certainly end in it; mourning is but a temporary, rejoicing is an eternal duty.

Verse 17

Note from the connection, that he that would rejoice evermore, must pray evermore; seldom praying and constant rejoicing will never stand together; according to our constancy in prayer, such will be the constancy of our joy.

Note, 2. That frequent and constant prayer to God, is a duty required of all Christians; we are then said to do a thing continually, when we do it seasonably, when we pray at stated times, morning and evening every day, when upon extraordinary occasions we perform the duty in an extraordinary manner, and when we perform it with unfainting perseverance, both frequently and fervently, though we receive no present answer to our prayers; and in a word, when the heat is always kept in a praying frame, this is to pray continually; and the reason for it is, because we stand in contiunal need of God, we want him continually, we sin against him continually, we are surrounded with temptations continually, we are exposed to trouble and affliction continually, and we ought to glorify God continually; and if so, we must pray continually; not that a man should do nothing else but pray; for though we may do nothing without prayer, yet we must do many things besides praying.

Verse 18

Observe here, 1. The duty required, and that is, thanksgiving.

2. The extent of the duty, In every thing give thanks, that is be thankful in every condition, and for every providential dispensation, both prosperous and adverse.

Quest. "Should Christians be thankful for afflictions?"

Yes, because they are fruits of fatherly love, because they conform us unto Christ, because they prevent sin, and purge out sin, because they fit us for glory, and will add to our crown of glory at the great day.

Quest. "But should Christians be thankful for sin, or when they fall into sin?"

By no means. Rule, What we must not pray for, we may not give thanks for: we must pray to be kept from sin, therefore may not give thanks when we fall into sin; sin dishonours God, disrobes ourselves, exposes to God's wrath and curse, is the ground of our just detestation, therefore cannot be the ground of thanksgiving; yet when we obtain pardon of sin, or get any good by sin we may and ought to rejoice at it.

Observe, 3. The grounds and reasons of the duty.

1. It is the will of God, his revealed will; this the law of nature directs to, and the light of scripture calls for; and he that performs it spiritually, glorifies God abundantly.

2. It is the will of God in Christ Jesus, that is, this part of Gods's will is especially revealed to you by the doctrine of Christ Jesus, and by the example of Christ Jesus: Christ was both a great pattern and precedent of thankfulness all his life long: he thanked God frequently and fervently, and has made thankfulness a considerable part of our gospel service, Hebrews 13:15.

Verse 19

Still observe, 1. The coherence and connection: he that would rejoice evermore, must pray without ceasing; and he that would rejoice in every thing, must be thankful in every thing; and he that would rejoice, pray, and give thanks continually, must evermore keep the Spirit unquenched; the way to keep one's self warm, is to keep the fire burning; Quench not the Spirit; that is, neither the graces of the Spirit nor the motions of the Spirit.

Note here, 1. That the Holy Spirit of God in man is of the nature of fire, as fire, it enlighteneth, it enliveneth, it warmeth, it consumeth, it purifieth and refineth, it ascendeth upward.

Note, 2. That this holy fire of the Spirit may be quenched; the gifts, graces, motions, and comforts of the Holy Spirit are of such a nature, that if they be not cherished, they are quenched: Fire will go out as well by neglecting it, as by casting water upon it.

Note, 3. That it must be a Christian's special care, that the graces of God's Holy Spirit be not quenched in him, nor any of its motions resisted by him. Sin in general quenches the Spirit, as water quenches fire: particularly, sins committed against knowledge and conscience; inordinate love of the world quenches the Spirit, as earth will extinguish fire as well as water.

A cold, customary, formal performance of holy duties, without the exercise of lively faith and holy love in the performance of them, will grieve and quench the Spirit, expecially sensual lusts indulged, and anger, malice, and revenge harboured in the heart: the holy Dove will not rest upon that man that has the heart of a vulture in his breast and bosom; and let us always remember,if we quench the Spirit in his motions, he is also quenched by us in his offices; he doth us many good offices; in prayer, he is our helper, our assistant, he quickens to the duty, and in the duty, and helps our infirmities, and makes intercession for us in our Christian course; he guides us, comforts us and bears witness to our integrity in us: all these good offices will he cease to do for us, if he be quenched in us.

Verse 20

Note here, 1. How close this duty is coupled with the former. Quench not the Spirit; despise not prophesyings; plainly intimating to us, that the Spirit is then dangerously quenched, when prophesying, or the preaching of the word, is sinfully neglected.

Note, 2. That by prophesying here, is not meant foretelling things to come, but the interpretation and application of the holy Scriptures, which we call preaching.

Note, 3. That by not despising it, we are to understand, that it is our obliged duty to put a high value and esteem upon it, to attend to it, and have a great regard for it, to honour the public ministry as an ordinance of God for instruction, conversion, and edification.

Learn, that it is not sufficient that we do not slight the ordinance of preaching, nor declaim against it as vain and useless, (as the manner of some is,) but we are to have an honourable esteem of it, and evidence that esteem by a due attendance upon it: more is intended by the Holy Ghost than is here expressed; for though he only forbids the sins, he intends the duty or grace in strict opposition to the sin, namely, that Christians ought to be so far from despising, that they ought to be very foreward in embracing the ministry and preaching of the word; despise not prophesyings.

Verse 21

Observe here, 1. The persons to whom this advice is given: to the church of the Thessalonians, not to the ministers, but to the people, Know them that labour among you, &c. 1 Thessalonians 5:12

Observe, 2. The advice itself, Prove all things; examine, try, and approve them, with a judgment of private discretion, not of public decision.

Learn, 1. That it is the duty of all Christians to examine the grounds of their faith and religion, and not to take them upon trust; otherwise their embracing the best religion in the world is rather the result of chance than of judgment and choice.

Learn, 2. That although all doctrines and opinions must be tried: yet, only that which is good, must be retained.

Learn, 3. That nothing is to be held fast, but what is first tried: Suppose we hold that which is good, yet if we have not tried and proved it to be good, it is no better to us than that which is evil; to approve before trial is not good, though the thing approved be never so good.

Inference, That this is a strong argument for the perspicuity and sufficiency of the holy scriptures, and against the necessity of a living Judge; for he that must try all things, must also try the doctrine of this living Judge; and therefore, till he has made this trial, must not admit his doctrine as an article of Christian faith; for these words plainly teach, that what we hold fast must be first tried; Try all things, and hold fast that which is good.

Verse 22

This advice genuinely follows upon the former; after we have tried all things, we must hold fast that which is good, and abstain from evil.

Where note, the gradation used by our apostle, we must abstain from evil, from all evil, from all appearance of evil.

Yet observe, it is not the apostle's meaning that we abstain from all that which appears evil to others; for that would be to destroy our Christian liberty in things indifferent, and create in our minds continual perplexities; there is nothing almost we can do, but may appear evil to some. But St. Paul here enjoins us to abstain from every thing which after trial seems evil to ourselves, and is judged by us so to be; yet it is our duty not to give any just occasion of scandal to any, but to live not only sine crimine, but sine labe, not only without fault, but, if possible, without flaw, that the world may have nothing to spot us withal.

Verse 23

Observe here, 1, that our apostle having exhorted the Thessalonians to labour after the highest measures of sanctification, breathes out his soul here in a most affectionate prayer to God, to sanctify them thoroughly and throughout; teaching us that instruction and supplication should go together; after we have been instant with our people we must be earnest and instant with God for them.

Observe, 2. The person whom the apostle directs his prayer for sanctification to, The God of peace: but why doth he not style him the God of grace? Because peace and unity is one very eminent part of that sanctification the apostle had prayed for, and had exhorted them before unto, Be at peace among yourselves 1 Thessalonians 5:13. Now this grace being once well rooted, all the other parts of sanctification thrive the better.

Observe, 3. How thorough and prevailing a work of sanctification the apostle prays for, namely, that God would sanctify them wholly in spirit, soul, and body.

By spirit, understand the superior faculties, the understanding, the will and conscience; by soul, the inferior faculties, the passions, affections, and sensitive appetite; and by body, the outward man, the tabernacle of the soul. Now the apostle prays, that all these may be sanctified, because they are defiled.

Blessed be God, regenerating grace is as universal a principle as original sin was; it is in the understanding by illumination, in the will by renovation, in all the affections by sanctifiation, reducing those rebellious powers under the government and dominion of reason and religion.

Observe, 4. Our apostle doth not only pray for their sanctification, but for their preservation also, that they may be preserved blameless to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, that is, preserved in a state of grace and holiness unto the end. All the sanctified are preserved; instability is an argument of insincerity; within a while, all possibilities of falling will be removed; in the mean while, take heed of falling, by thinking it is impossible to fall; for none are so near falling as those who are most confident of their own strength and standing.

Verse 24

Here our apostle comforts the Thessalonians with the assurance that God, who had called them to the knowledge of Christianity, would do what he had prayed for, namely, sanctify them wholly, and preserve them blameless, and this because God is faithful, that is, always the same, true to his word. God will certainly do his part in and towards the work of sanctification and preservation; but in a way of concurrence with our care and industry; he will do nothing without us, as we can do nothing without him; God's faithfulness is a pledge to us of the performance of all his promises, and will most certainly put him upon the performance of them; but his promise to us always supposes, yea, exacts from us, the use of all means, and particularly the exerting of our own endeavours, in order to our preservation in grace, and perseverance in holiness; Faithful is he that called you, who also will do it.

Verse 25

Observe, who it is that begs prayer, a great apostle, St. Paul himself; and who it is he begs prayer from, the brethren, Christians, and fellow members of the church at Thessalonica. Those that are most eminent for gifts and graces, are greatly desirous of the saints' prayers; particularly the ministers of the gospel, as they stand most in need of, so are they most importunate for this spiritual alms, which they crave as earnestly as ever beggar did bread at a rich man's gate. See 2 Thessalonians 3:1.

Verse 26

Our apostle concludes his epistle with salutations to all the brethren and members of the church, without exception, poor and rich, advising them to manifest and testify their affection one to another, by a kiss given to each other, a ceremony of civility much in use in those eastern countries; yet requires, that it should not be a wanton, but a holy kiss: intimating to us, that our civil actions should have a relish and savour of holiness.

Hence it is, that St. Paul is so careful to give particular directions for the right ordering of our speech and discourse in common conversation, that it be grave and savoury, Colossians 4:6: of our apparel, that it be such as becomes those that profess the gospel; and here, that our courteous salutations of each other should be chaste and holy, Greet one another with a holy kiss: their kiss of love and peace, must truly signify, what it makes shew of, that neither treachery, nor cruelty, nor hypocrisy, nor lust, may insinuate itself into such a symbol of holy love.

Verse 27

Our apostle having now finished his epistle, gives a strict charge for the perusal of it.

In which, observe, 1. The duty enjoined, with the matter of it, namely, the reading of this epistle, and for the same reason all the rest, which had the like stamp of divine authority upon them.

Observe, 2. The object or parties to whom this epistle is to be read, to the brethren, to all the brethren.

Observe, 3. The solemnity of the injuction, I charge you, not, I exhort, beseech, or entreat, but charge and enjoin you; nay, the word signifies, I adjure you; it has the force of an oath, and that under a curse: as if he had said, "I oblige you, under the penalty of God's curse, that this epistle be read."

Learn hence, 1. That the scriptures ought to be in a known tongue, that they may be read unto, and read by the common people.

2. That to confine the reading of the scriptures to the clergy, and exclude the laity or common people from reading of them, is a very grievous sin, contrary to the intent and design of God in the first penning and composing of them.

3. That it doth in a special manner concern the ministers and spiritual guides to take particular care that the holy scriptures be publicly read to, and privately read by all their people; and in order thereunto, to excite parents to read them daily in their families, Deuteronomy 6:9 and in their closets, Colossians 3:16. And also it is a great part of the minister's duty to look after the putting forth the children of poor parents to school, that they may learn to read the scriptures for their instruction and comfort.

Lord, what a reproach is it to this Christian nation, that in thousands of families the Bible signifies no more than a chip! Not a soul amongst them able to read a letter in it! This is a lamentation, the Lord put it into the hearts of ministers and people to use their utmost endeavours to roll away this reproach from us!

Verse 28

Thus concludes our apostle his excellent epistle, with his usual valediction or farewell wish, desiring, that though the Thessalonians had been large partakers of the grace andd Spirit of Christ, that yet they might receive fresh, farther and fuller supplies from himself, the fountain of all grace and goodness.

From whence note, that so inexhaustible is the fountain of divine grace, and so copious the streams of spiritual blessings flowing from it, that no such measures can be attained, but, as more is wanting, more is had, more is provided, more is allowed, more is to be thirsted after, and laboured for. Blessed be God for Jesus Christ, that overflowing, that never failing fountain of grace and comfort, in whom all fullness dwells, that of his fullness all his members may receive, further receive, grace for grace. Amen.

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Bibliographical Information
Burkitt, William. "Commentary on 1 Thessalonians 5". Burkitt's Expository Notes with Practical Observations on the NT. 1700-1703.