Brothers who are beloved by God, we know that He has chosen you,
I. THERE IS AN ELECTION ACCORDING: TO GRACE.
1. The election referred to here was not an election to external privilege or ecclesiastical relationship; for that might have had a very uncertain issue, and would not have been the subject of such abounding thankfulness as he expresses in this passage.
2. It was not even the call to obtain glory, which they had received through his gospel (2 Thessalonians 2:13, 14); for the election only realized itself in that call, Scripture always distinguishing the order of election and calling. "Whom he did predestinate, them he also called" (Romans 8:30).
3. Much less is the election to be identified with regeneration, conversion, or faith. These were its effects.
4. It was an election to eternal life, involving all the various processes of his grace. (Romans 11:5.)
(1) It is an election in Christ (Ephesians 1:4).
(2) It is irrespective of merit (Romans 9:11).
(3) It is through faith and the sanctification of the Spirit (2 Thessalonians 2:13).
(4) It is to eternal glory (Romans 9:23).
II. THE KNOWLEDGE OF THIS ELECTION IS A POSSIBLE AND AN ACTUAL EXPERIENCE. The apostle's knowledge was not derived from special revelation, neither was it the mere credulity of a kindly charity, "hoping all things" in the absence of evidence. It had a double ground - one subjective and the other objective; one based upon the apostle's conscious experience in preaching the gospel, the other upon their practical and hearty reception of the truth.
1. The subjective evidence. "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance."
(1) It did come in word, for it was conveyed to the Thessalonians in human speech, albeit not "in the enticing words of man's wisdom," but it passed beyond the word. It did not merely sound in the ear nor touch the understanding.
(2) But it came in power - on the part of the preachers with an overwhelming force and persuasiveness, so that "the faith of the people should not stand in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:5). There was a conscious abounding energy which carried them beyond themselves, with an overmastering conviction that they would prevail.
(3) It came also "in the Holy Ghost," or, as the apostle elsewhere phrases it, "in demonstration of the Spirit and of power" (1 Corinthians 2:4). The Word would otherwise have been a dead letter and a killing letter, but the Spirit gave it life. The power of the gospel, therefore, was due to the efficient operation of the Spirit.
(4) It came also "in much assurance," not on the part of the Thessalonians, but on the part of the preachers of the gospel, who were fully convinced of its truth, and had thorough confidence in its power.
(5) This subjective evidence was confirmed by their own recollection of the three preachers of the gospel - "As ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake." The Thessalonians would have a very vivid recollection both of the preaching and the preachers. The three brethren were conspicuous by their holiness, their zeal, and their interest in the welfare of the Thessalonians. This was no self-flattery, for it was confirmed by the knowledge of their converts.
2. The objective evidence of their election. "And ye became imitators of us, and of the Lord, having received the Word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." Their ready imitation of the apostle and his colleagues - which was, in truth, an imitation of Christ, so far as they were connected with him in his life and truth - was a practical proof of the sincerity of their conversion. The imitation was manifest in the spirit and circumstances of their reception of the truth.
(1) The truth was received "in much affliction." The history of their conversion confirms this statement (Acts 17:5, 9). But the persecution continued after the departure of the apostle. The gospel had its drawbacks, but the Thessalonians were steadfast in their allegiance to the truth.
(2) Yet it was received "with joy of the Holy Ghost;" that is, the joy that springs from his presence in the soul. They were thus imitating that apostle who "took pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake" (2 Corinthians 12:9, 10). The joy in question is
(a) a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22);
(b) it is essentially connected with the kingdom of God as part of its blessedness (Romans 14:17);
(c) it is capable of increase through the very presence of affliction (Acts 5:41);
(d) it is the strength of the believer - "The joy of the Lord shall be your strength" (Nehemiah 8:10);
(e) its advent marks a distinct change in the world's history;
(f) it ought to be constant (Philippians 4:4);
(g) it is maintained through abiding in Christ (John 15:10, 11). - T.C.
Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of GodI. THE ELECTION "of God" is not connected with "knowing" nor "election." The meaning is that the Church was "beloved" of God, not merely of the missionaries. And the proof of their being the subject of the Divine love is their election. This election was their historical selection out of the Western World to be the earliest European recipients of the gospel. The narrative in Acts 16:6-10 is expository of it. The missionaries' course was narrowed off from this and that place until the vision of the man of Macedonia. Thessalonica being the chief city of Macedonia, the vision was a declaration of the election of its inhabitants. The term "election" is a rare one in Scripture, and is absent, except in this case, from all Paul's earlier Epistles. It had been used of Paul to Ananias in reference to his own similar selection: "He is a vessel of election unto Me." In both cases it means selection for privilege, and therefore for service. The same election is ceaselessly seen — one nation, city, family, individual, called before another. Many perplexities gather round the subject, and its ultimate solution is to be found in the Divine sovereignty alone. Often, however, the thing is clear. Here, e.g., there was a fitness in the choice of Thessalonica as a centre for Christian influence (ver. 8). Thessalonica was a great emporium of commerce by sea. It lay also on the line of one of the great Roman roads. Cicero describes it as "placed in the bosom of the Roman Empire."
II. THE GROUNDS OF THE APOSTLE'S KNOWLEDGE OF THIS ELECTION were —
1. Subjective — on his part.(1) "Our gospel," a phrase implying —(2) Heart possession of it. "I believed, therefore have I spoken." This is the first prerequisite of a faithful ministry. As Melanchthon used to say to his students, "It is the all thy house shall be saved." These words were proclaimed by the apostle's lips. Human instrumentality is employed in what is in the strictest sense God's work. But often it is in "word only." Even from the lips of Christ the message fell ineffectual, and Paul has his share in this. But it was far different here.(3) This gospel came "in power" — not miraculously, but persuasively. It was no cold, formal performance of duty, but in a very exceptional degree heart work.(4) It was therefore "in the Holy Ghost." The presence and energy of the Divine Spirit were recognized by Him. His utterances were more than the struggles of an earnest human spirit; they were the winged words of the Spirit of Truth.(5) Hence it came "in much assurance," i.e., in the firm conviction that his message was from heaven, and that it was not in vain (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). So he knew from within himself that they were "appointed unto salvation." From this we may gather —(a) Every minister feels sometimes powerless, unaided by the Spirit, and oppressed with doubt. In such a case he is bound to search for causes in his own heart. But he is also entitled to look without; to trace the cause of his own feebleness in the apathy of the people. He may even, after the example of Paul, conclude in some cases from this ineffective preaching that they are not the chosen people of God. Pulpit and pew react on each other. "Like people, like priest."(b) The apostle appeals to their knowledge of his bearing and conduct as well as his words. Personal influence is far more direct and effective than official. Truth must be taught by example as well as precept. An infidel once said to Fenelon, with whom he had been residing: "If I stay here any longer I shall become a Christian in spite of myself."(c) This bearing was not self-interested, but for their sakes, as every minister's should be.
2. Objective — the eager joyfulness with which the Thessalonians received Paul's preaching. The two grounds cannot be separated. The first could be no safe evidence without the second. Their having been chosen of God is shown by their having chosen God's gospel (1 Thessalonians 2:13). It became theirs as well as Paul's. They became followers, i.e., imitators, of Paul and Christ. How? Not in their reception of the truth. In this they might be imitators of Paul, but not of Christ, who was the Truth. The point of imitation is the joyful endurance of suffering. Paul preached the gospel "in much affliction with joy of the Holy Ghost," as Christ had wrought it out: "Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross." In this sphere of trial, and of spiritual joy in the midst of it, Christ and His apostles and people are at one. Embracing Christ entailed suffering; but sorrow from without could not destroy inward joy. Afflictions come from men, but joy from the Holy Ghost. The gospel cannot be received without joy. Paul, then, would encourage them to greater endurance still, by his grateful recognition of this evidence of their election.
(J. Hutchison, D. D.)I. THE WORD OF GOD COMING HOME WITH POWER. The power of the gospel —
1. Does not lie —(1) In the preacher, otherwise men would be the converters of souls.(2) Nor in the preacher s learning, or it would consist in the wisdom of men.(3) Nor in the preacher's adaptation to his work; that is a secondary agency, not the cause.(4) Nor in the pathos the preacher may employ. People may weep at a theatre. No, there is something more wanted. A half-drunken man said to Rowland Hill, "I am one of your converts." "Yes," said he, "I dare say you are one of mine; but if you were one of God's, you would not be in that state."
2. It does lie in the power of the Holy Ghost.(1) Did you ever — never mind where — in listening to the Word, feel a Divine power coming with it? Not an impression — that may be wiped out — but a power convincing of sin, making you tremble under it, and then wooing you to Christ, in whom you believed and then became a changed man?(2) And since that has the Word rebuked you, filled you with God's love and light and joy, and desire after holiness? If not, you lack a proof of your election. Not that it will be so every time, for the preacher is not always in a fit frame.
II. RECEIVING THE WORD WITH MUCH ASSURANCE — not full assurance; that comes afterwards. There are some people who play fast and loose with principles; put a hymn book in their pockets when they are going to meeting and a song book when they are going somewhere else. They can hold with the hare and run with the hounds. Such people have never much confidence in their religion: and it is very proper that they should not, for their religion is not worth the time they spend in making a profession of it. But the true Christian, when he gets hold of principles, keeps them. His religion is part of himself. He believes the truth, not because he has been taught it, but because it is true to him; like the servant girl who, when she could not answer her infidel master, said, "Sir, I cannot answer you, but I have a something in here that would, if it could speak." Now, if you have received the gospel with much assurance, you can say, "Christ is mine. I know that Christ is precious, not by 'Paley's Evidences' or 'Butler's Analogy,' but by my heart's inward evidence, the analogy of my soul's experience." If you can say that, whether you believe the doctrine of election or not, you are one of the elect.
III. BECOMING FOLLOWERS OF US AND OF THE LORD; by which the apostle does not mean that they said, "I am of Paul, I of Silas, I of Timothy." No, they imitated them so far as they imitated Christ. Are you Christ-like, or do you want to be? Can you forgive your enemy, love him, and do him good? Are you prayerful as Jesus was? If a man follow not Christ, whatever he may say about election he is not the Lord's.
IV. ENDURANCE OF AFFLICTION WITH JOY.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
New Testament Anecdotes.An Arminian being about to pay a Calvinist a sum of money, asked, "Is it decreed that I shall pay thee this money?" "Put it in my hand, and I will tell thee," was the reply. Is it not to be wished that many professors of religion would infer their "election of grace" by their actual possession of grace?
(New Testament Anecdotes.)it.
(C. H. Spurgeon.)
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