PAUL'S EARLIEST GOSPEL
"We give thanks to God always for you all, . . . knowing, brethren beloved of God, your election. . . . For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that ... we should live together with Him. . . . Faithful is He that calleth you, who will also do it."—I Thes. i. 2, 4; v. 9, 24. (R. V.)
I Have put together here passages from the beginning and the end of the First Epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians, because, when taken together, these passages afford a succinct statement of the gospel which Paul preached to the Thessalonians, and on the basis of which that apostolic church was built up. It may be of special interest to note Paul's gospel to the Thessalonians because it gives what we may call his primitive gospel. In observing it we are contemplating the teaching of Paul at the beginning of his career.
This first letter to the Thessalonians is the earliest writing that has come down to us from Paul's pen. Is it perhaps also, we may possibly ask, a little crude and unformed in its presentation of Paul's gospel? A glance at the text is enough to reassure us. The gospel Paul preached to the Thessalonians is the same gospel that he preached to the Romans, and the same gospel that he laid upon the hearts of his helpers, Timothy and Titus, to preach when he should no longer be with them. There is no lack of firmness in the lines of it as they are drawn here; no faltering in the expression of the details. We cannot, then, approach its consideration in a purely historical spirit. The gospel Paul preached in those early days to the Thessalonians is the gospel which he preached ever after and is still preaching to-day to the world. It is the gospel that he commends to us as well as to the Thessalonians, and we may without hesitation take it to ourselves as the very gospel of God.
The external history of the carrying of the gospel to the Thessalonians is soon told. Paul had come among them filled with a very vivid sense of his divine mission, in response to the cry of the Macedonian man to come over and help the Greek peoples. He was, more immediately, fresh from the persecution at Philippi, and was pressed in spirit from his experience there (ii. 2). Waxing bold in God he had proclaimed, perhaps with unusual fervor—certainly not in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Ghost and in much assurance (i. 5)—the pure gospel of God's grace; and had not only adorned the doctrine he preached by a life of self-denial for its sake (ii. 9), but also commended it by a loving eagerness and tender pertinacity in enforcing it on the attention of his hearers. Looking back on it all, he describes his yearning after their souls in the beautiful similes of a nursing mother cherishing her children (ii. 7), and of a watchful father consoling and encouraging and testifying to his sons (ii. 11). The Thessalonians had received this gospel, pressed upon them with such affectionate assiduity, with exceptional readiness and exceptional zeal (i. 6, 9; ii. 15). They had recognized the word of the message as what it really was, not the word of man, but the word of God, and had set themselves to obey its commands. As fruitage of their faith the apostle perceives with joy the Christian graces their lives had from the first exhibited—their work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope (i. 3, 8; iv. 9).
In writing back to them to strengthen them in face of the persecution which had meanwhile fallen upon them, and to exhort them to a continuous advance in their Christian life, Paul naturally makes much of the gospel which had wrought so powerfully among them. He calls it affectionately his gospel (i. 4), and reverentially God's gospel (ii. 2), which was his therefore only because, as God's minister in the gospel of Christ (v. 2), he had been approved to be intrusted with it (ii. 4). It is not to himself—his eloquence, the winningness of his appeal, the force of his argumentation, the clearness of his presentation in preaching it—but to the gospel itself with which he was armed, that he ascribes the revolution that had been wrought in the lives of the Thessalonians. He was God's minister in the gospel of Christ indeed, but the gospel was itself God's own word, and it was it that energized, as the word of God, in them that believed (ii. 13). The whole value of his mission, he gives us to understand over and over again, resided just in the gospel he preached—the glad tidings which he was the instrument in bringing to men.
Now, in the words which we have culled out of this epistle for our text, we have this blessed gospel succinctly summarized. The core of it consisted, it is plain, in one and only one simple proclamation; a proclamation, however, which when duly apprehended is not less tremendous in its import and implications than it is simple in its form —the proclamation, to wit, of "salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ who died for us that we should live together with Him "; or, as in another passage (i. 10) it is even more concisely summed up, the proclamation of "Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath." "Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath!" Let us lay that sentence well to mind, for in that one sentence is contained the whole essence of Paul's gospel to the Thessalonians, and the whole essence of his gospel to us. The whole essence, we say, though not, of course, the entire structure of it. For, as we have hinted, there are tremendous implications involved in this simple proclamation. And these implications Paul did not leave to the inferences of his disciples to work out, but made them rather the subject of explicit instruction. There is, for example, a whole doctrine of sin implied, and a whole doctrine of redemption, and a whole doctrine of the application of redemption to sinful men, and of the relation of God's activities to the activities of man in the saving process. For, be it observed, to say that the core of Paul's gospel consisted in the simple proclamation of Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath—of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us that we should live with Him—is not the same as to say that he preached Jesus simpliciter. He did not preach Jesus simpliciter. He preached, as he elsewhere puts it, Jesus as crucified (i Cor. ii. 2). And the very essence of his proclamation as a gospel consists in just this, that it was not Jesus as man or even as God-man merely that he held up to men's adoring gaze, but Jesus "our deliverer from the coming wrath," Jesus "who died for us that we should live with Him," that he offered to their trusting faith. And this mode of presenting Jesus has, as we say, its tremendous implications—implications of such import that without them the proclamation would be vain, and therefore of such importance as to be made by Paul the subject of explicit and eager teaching.
It will doubtless be of interest, and certainly it is of importance to us in our spiritual apprehension of the truth, to try to draw out somewhat fully the essential characteristics of Paul's gospel as exhibited in this his earliest presentation of it in written form.
The first thing that strongly impresses us, if we scrutinize it closely, is that it is emphatically a gospel of deliverance from sin.
It is a gospel of salvation; and just because it is a gospel of salvation, behind it there lies the deepest possible sense of sin—active in the apostle's mind as the basis of his whole gospel, and frankly presuppposed as also lying in his readers' minds as a fundamental conviction, the point of entrance, indeed, of his gospel into their hearts. This background of sin is manifested in the words which we have taken as our text, in a double implication. First, there is the contrast drawn in the declaration, " For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation." Here we see the background of sin as guilt set before us. Those who do not obtain this salvation remain under the wrath of God; and the condition of man wherefrom he requires salvation is therefore a condition of wrath-deserving sin. Again, there is the contrast underlying the declaration, "Faithful is He who calleth you, who will also do it"—for this great assertion is made to comfort those who despair of attaining a blameless life in God's sight. We see here the background of sin as pollution, producing inability to good. It is only in that God who in this crisp proverb is declared not only the caller, but the doer—the one who emphatically performs —that man can trust for the cleansing of his heart. In both aspects of it—guilt and pollution —sin lies everywhere presupposed as the primary condition of Paul's gospel.
Not least do we perceive its shadow, of course, in that most pregnant of all the declarations of the epistle—that which sums up Paul's gospel in the proclamation of "Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath." It is clear that before all else this preacher is impressed with the fact that the wrath of God hangs imminent over mankind, and that the great black cloud of sin rests loweringly over the entire world. It is because of this sense of sin that the need of deliverance looms so big in his mind; and that it is such good news, such glad tidings to his heart that Jesus is our deliverer from the coming wrath—that in His death and resurrection we have salvation from the wrath that otherwise would be appointed to us. All Paul's gospel thus rests on sin as its precedent occasion and the measure of its need, and the measure, therefore, of its preciousness.
Now it may well be that this sense of sin that supplied to Paul the dark background against which the glory of the gospel was thrown out, is not so deep or so poignant in our modern world as it was to him or even to his hearers. We hear a good deal, at all events, to-day of the "vanishing sense of sin"; and indeed, when we look around us, we see influences enough at work which must tend to dull men's feeling of the depth and heinousness of sin. Is it, perchance, merely unwitting error into which we fall because of our as yet insufficient knowledge or wisdom? Is it possibly merely the mark of our finiteness, the indication that we are not as yet all that we are hereafter to be? Is it perhaps but the effect of our insufficient adjustment to our environment, that will pass away as we fit ourselves more perfectly into our place? Is it perhaps just the mark of our advancing evolution to the perfection toward which we are constantly progressing —the condition of our advance, because the galling of the imperfections yet remaining and the incitement to effort for their removal? So men to-day talk mildly of what to the apostle was sin in all the hideous suggestions of that word— rotting corruption of heart, throwing itself up in an unclean and polluted life on the one hand; remorseful guilt in the sight of a holy God, entailing His wrath and His wrath's inevitable punishment on the other. And we shall never understand or participate in this gospel which Paul preached to the Thessalonians, and through them to us, until we feel with him the fact and the horror and the helplessness and the hopelessness of the sin that lies as its prime presupposition at its base.
We must note then, secondly, that just because Paul's gospel to the Thessalonians was emphatically a gospel of deliverance from sin, it was as emphatically an ethical gospel—a gospel of righteousness and holiness of life.
In Paul's own summary of it, in the second epistle, this characteristic is thrown forward into very special prominence. The salvation which he makes the substance of his proclamation he there describes as finding its whole sphere just in "sanctification of the Spirit," that is, in the work of the Holy Spirit framing the life into holiness. This note is equally a fundamental note of this first epistle. It is just because of their Christian graces—the revolution thus wrought in their lives —that Paul thanks God in behalf of his converts (i. 3). It is that God may establish their hearts unblamable before our God and Father—that they may be sanctified wholly, and in spirit and in soul and in body be preserved blameless (v. 23)— that he offers his most fervent prayers for them. He declares with strong asseveration that it is the will of God for them that they should abstain from fleshly lusts and be sanctified—for, he explains with insistent iteration, "God called us not for uncleanness but in sanctification" (iv. 8). It is the holy walk alone, he declares, that is pleasing to God (iv. 1); and nothing can exhibit more plainly one's ignorance of God, he intimates, than that he should walk in uncleanness—for, says the apostle, God is our judge in all these things, and of this he had faithfully forewarned his readers and testified (iv. 6, 7). Thus the very essence of their calling is made to consist in holiness of life, and Paul obviously looks upon their holiness as the direct result of their salvation, or, let us say rather, as the very matter of their salvation. Their salvation consists just in holiness, and in so far as it exists at all it is manifested in the sanctification in which it consists.
So far, then, is Paul from lending any countenance to that odd fancy which has shown itself here and there through all the ages—that would look upon religion and morality in divorce, and esteem the one possible in the absence of the other—that he absolutely identifies the two in his gospel. This, of course, implies that with him religion is something more than a mere sentiment of awe in the presence of a superhuman power; and morality something more than mere external conformity to a standard of human custom or to laws of life of human exactment. To understand his standpoint we must apprehend all that is meant by religion conceived as communion with the holy God in Christ Jesus the righteous one, and by morality conceived as Godlikeness, as conformity to the likeness of God's own Son. He was not proclaiming an abstract " religion "; he was proclaiming the concrete religion of salvation from the wrath of God through Jesus Christ, and as this salvation is from sin it necessarily is unto holiness—that holiness without which no one shall see God. But we must not, on the other hand, suppose that Paul conceived this salvation and holiness as working its whole process all at once; or looked upon his converts, if believers at all, as wholly free from sin. Nothing is clearer than his solicitude for them as viatores who have not yet attained the goal; nothing is more striking than his tenderness with them in their remaining sin, and the zeal of his exhortations to them to go on to perfection.
We have not reached the bottom of the matter, therefore, until we observe, again, that Paul's gospel of salvation from sin, which he preached to the Thessalonians, was emphatically an eschatological gospel.
As we have seen, Paul was under no illusions, nor did he permit his readers to remain under any illusions, as to the nature of the life they had been leading in the world, or as to the need that they had of "salvation" with reference to this their life in this world—if they would at all be well-pleasing to God. The change that had come over them, the new life that had become theirs when "they turned unto God from idols to serve the living and true God "—their " work of faith and labor of love and patience of hope "—formed the very matter of his thanksgiving to God in their behalf. And one of the chief objects of his writing to them now was strenuously to urge them to increase and abound in love to one another (iii. 11), to abound more and more in the holy walk which alone is pleasing to God (iv. 7); and to press on their consciences the fact that the will of God toward them was their sanctification and His call to them was unto sanctification (iv. 3, 7); and at the same time to comfort them, in their sense of hopeless shortcoming, with the assurance of the faithfulness and ability of the God who had called them to complete the good work unto the end (iv. 23).
Nevertheless this strong insistence upon the salvation of their earthly life to holiness by no means exhausted his saving message; nor did it constitute its primary element. His eye is set steadily not upon the present, but upon the future. Even this holiness of life on which he lays such stress is, indeed, not looked upon as primarily for this life, but rather as having its chief significance for the life to come. This is distinctly its reference, for example, in Paul's fervent prayers for their perfecting in holiness and in his comforting promises concerning it. We read, "The Lord make you to increase and abound in love toward one another, and toward all men, ... to the end He may stablish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints" (iii. 12, 13). We read, "And the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved entire, without blame, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ; faithful is He that calleth you, who will also do it" (vs. 23, 24). Thus their very sanctification, on which he lays such stress and in which he makes the very matter of their " salvation" to consist, is yet looked upon by him not in and for itself, but as a means to an end—as a preparation for something to come—in which something to come their real salvation finds its culmination and its crown.
It is emphatically, therefore, an eschatological salvation that Paul preached to the Thessalonians. And accordingly this epistle that he writes to them is a markedly eschatological epistle. His mind was set upon the future, and he kept his readers' minds also set upon the future. The salvation he was proclaiming to them was a matter not of present fruition, but distinctly of hope. To arm themselves for the temptations of life they are to put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation (iii. 8). What he desires in them, then, is an attitude not of attainment, but of expectation. When they turned unto God from idols it was to serve the living and the true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven (i. 10). Whatever comes to them here and now, therefore, in the way of enjoyment of this salvation is prelibation only. The realization belongs not here, but yonder; not now, but in the time to come.
The hinge of the whole proclamation turns, in a word, on a doctrine of wrath to come, which impends over all, deliverance from which can be had only in Jesus Christ—in His death in our behalf and His resurrection as the firstfruits of those that sleep. Accordingly the very core of Paul's gospel to the Thessalonians is summed up, as we
have seen, in the proclamation of Jesus our deliverer from the wrath to come. And when the apostle would encourage his readers in the prospect of that dread coming of the Lord as a thief in the night, bringing sudden destruction, as travail upon a woman with child, on all who have not obeyed His gospel, it is in the carefully chosen words, " For God appointed us not unto wrath, but unto the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us that we should live with Him." The salvation they hoped for is thus set pointedly over against the wrath appointed for mankind outside its reach; and it is set forth most sharply as distinctly an eschatological salvation.
Accordingly, also, nothing that in this world befalls those who are appointed to the obtaining of this salvation can mar their joy in believing. Not a life of suffering and persecution. Indeed, to that too they are appointed (ii. 3). And whatever may be the distress and the affliction that assault them here, there remains a far more exceeding weight of glory in store for them hereafter. And not death itself. For death itself is but a sleep for those who believe that Christ died and rose again, and that God will bring them with Him. And when He shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God, they shall rise from the dead to be henceforth for ever with the Lord.
This is a gospel, obviously, then, not of temporal salvation from present-day evils, but of eternal salvation from the endless burnings of the wrath of God against sin; not of temporal salvation to present-day excellences, but of eternal salvation to everlasting glory. We have heard a good deal of late of very different import. We have been repeatedly told that our concern is not to be with heaven, but with earth ; that we should not talk of saving our souls, but rather, simply, of saving our lives; that to get the life right is the main thing, and conduct should be the one end of our endeavor. Let us, it is said, take pains with our adjustments here and see to it that our lives are clean and our activities determined by altruistic motives; and what then remains of duty to man or of hopes or fears with which he need concern himself? Such a gospel is plainly out of all relation with Paul's gospel. So far from beginning and ending with this life, Paul treats this life as but the "suburb of the life elysian, whose portal we call death." To him the real life is there; we are here but pilgrims with no abiding city, and should live as becomes those whose citizenship is elsewhere—in the city that has foundations, whose builder and maker is God. To him all that enters into this life is but a preparation for the life to come, and should be consciously looked upon as such and dealt with as such; certainly not as unimportant, but as finding its importance not in itself, but in its relations to the eternity of bliss or woe, in comparison with which this little stretch of time in which the drama of the earthly life is played out is as nothing.
We cannot feel surprise, then, when we observe, once more, that Paul's gospel to the Thessalonians is distinctly a heterosoteric gospel—that is to say, a gospel that offers us salvation in and by the work of another; and does not simply propose for us a way in which we may save ourselves.
Had he in mind merely some amelioration of the conditions of life in this world—some better adjustment of society and of the individual life with respect to the several duties that press on it in its surroundings—it might have been more possible for him to look to man himself, in his native powers of conscience and sensibility and will, to work the necessary change; though for Paul, with his deep view of sin and of the paralysis that sin induces in all activities toward God, even this would have been really impossible. But when our eye is set not merely upon the adjustments of this life, but upon salvation from the dreadful wrath of God that burns against our sin conceived as guilt, what hope can be placed in man himself, or any power he may be thought to possess, to work out deliverance? Accordingly, Paul preaches a gospel not fundamentally of effort from within, but of deliverance from without. Its core, its substance, as we have repeatedly pointed out, lies in the great proclamation of "Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath," or, more fully stated, in the offer of "salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us that we should live with Him."
It is not merely a salvation, then, that Paul preaches, but above everything else, a Saviour; and the whole nerve of his gospel lies in the assumption that salvation to us men, immersed in sin and cowering under the righteous wrath of God, were impossible save through this Saviour. Therein, indeed, lies its whole character as a gospel, good news, glad tidings. To us, helpless and hopeless in our sins, unable to free ourselves from either the tyranny or curse of sin, Paul comes proclaiming a deliverer, in whose hands lies salvation. For, as we have already said, it is not Jesus simpliciter that constitutes the substance of Paul's gospel, but, as he phrases it elsewhere, Jesus as crucified(i Cor. ii. 2)—Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath—salvation through Jesus Christ, who died for us that we should live together with Him.
It does not fall in Paul's way in this brief epistle to give any very full description of how Jesus saves from wrath. But enough is dropped incidentally to assure us of the outlines of His doctrine even here. Clearly the stress is thrown not on our Lord's person, but on His work. Not, of course, as if His person were treated as of no importance. He is ever "the Lord" to Paul (i. 6; ii. 15; iv. 1, 2, 15, 16, 17; v. 2, 12, 28), and that in the most exalted sense; or, with loving appropriation, " our Lord " (i. 2; iii. 11,13; v. 9, 24, 28). He is God's unique Son (i. 10), in whom all Christian graces move as their sphere (i. 3; iii. 8; iv. I, 2), and who along with God is the determiner of the ways of men (iii. 11), and from whom grace is invoked for men (iii. 13; v. 28). But the entire stress of the proclamation is thrown on His having become our deliverer from the coming wrath specifically through His work on our behalf—and more particularly by His death for us (v. 10). With His death the resurrection of Christ is connected as the object of faith for believers (i. 10; iv. 14); and with these His second coming from heaven, to close the drama on earth with a final assize, is associated as the object of the Christian's loving expectation (i. 10; ii. 19; iii. 13; iv. 14, 15, 17; v. 2, 23), since in it his salvation will be completed. But it is especially the death of Christ that is signalized as the hinge of His saving grace. He died for us that we should live with Him (v. 10). It is that He died and rose again that we must believe (iv. 14) if we are to be brought with Him at the last day. It was, in a word, in His death that He, whom God has raised from the dead and who now sits in heaven waiting until the time of His return shall arrive—the day of the Lord, which shall come not when men expect it, but when it suits His ends—has accomplished our salvation, our deliverance from the wrath to come. And it is precisely at this point that we reach the center of the center, the heart of the heart of Paul's gospel. The glad tidings he bore to the Thessalonians were tidings of death—of a hideous death, a death which he can think of only with horror and with reprobation of those who inflicted it. "Who hath killed the Lord," he says— instinctively arranging the words so as to bring out the enormity of the deed: "who it was who the very Lord Himself have killed, Jesus, and also the prophets "—when his indignation arises against the Jews who are piling up their sins always, and over whom the wrath of God is, he says, hanging like a surcharged cloud ready to burst. But it was a death, on the other hand, that in another aspect of it was a glorious death— a death for us by which we are saved from death, and Christ is made our deliverer. "He died for us that we should live with Him!" There is the very kernel of Paul's gospel.
It will scarcely require emphasizing, therefore, that Paul's gospel to the Thessalonians was, further, emphatically a supernaturalistic gospel.
A gospel that comes proclaiming salvation to sinful men by the death of the Son of God—slain, indeed, by the wicked hands of men to their own undoing, but slain, on the other hand, in His own purpose, for the deliverance of His people from the coming wrath—must needs be supernaturalistic to the core. And so it is in every item of Paul's representation of it. The deliverance which it proclaims is a deliverance more especially, not from earthly ills or even from earthly suffering, but from the wrath to come. And as Paul tears aside the veil that hides the future, he tears aside with it the veil that covers the vast reaches of the heavenly places, and bids us raise our eyes from the earth and the forces that operate in the ordinary events of the earth, and look up to that broader stage where the drama of eternity is being played. The very eschatological character of the deliverance which he is announcing involves an emphasis on the supernatural which is almost extreme. Hence we are bidden to seek not on earth but in heaven for our deliverer (i. 10); whence also He is to come in His own time—with all His saints—and those that have fallen asleep in Jesus are to rise, to be caught up on the clouds and to meet Him in the air as He descends from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God. There is surely no chariness of the supernatural in the painting of this scene; and this is the scene of the final act in the drama of salvation.
But no less really supernaturalistic is Paul's conception of those processes in the working out of the deliverance which appeal less to the outward eye as the wonderful works of God; but to his inner apprehension clearly evinced themselves as nevertheless equally of God. How is this tremendous deliverance, for example, made the possession of men? How was it that he himself and these Thessalonian Christians to whom he was writing were made sharers in this great deliverance? To Paul this too was directly of God. He conceived it, in his gospel, as just as supernatural an occurrence as the blast of the trumpet of God itself, at that day, which shall raise the dead. This is, indeed, suggested to us in the words we have taken as our text; or, to speak more correctly, it is the open assertion of every one of the clauses which we have brought together in the text. It is, for example, to God that he gives thanks for the Christian virtues of his converts. Why? He tells us himself. It is because the very fact that they are Christians at all, that they received the gospel he brought to them, as well as all the subsequent fruits of their new lives, are proof of their election thereunto. Wherefrom it is easy to infer that in his view it is of God alone that man believes in the gospel of deliverance through His dear Son. Again, when he would prepare his readers for the prospect of the sudden coming of Christ as avenger upon those who are not in Him, he does it, not by pointing to anything that they can do for themselves to escape the impending doom, but by assuring them that they have been appointed of God not to wrath, but to the obtaining of salvation. And, once again, when he would encourage them, in their known shortcomings, yet to hope for a blameless standing before the judgment seat of God, he does it, not by appealing to their own powers of will and action, and so stirring them up to new endeavors, but by pointing to God: "Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it." In each and every case, in fine, it is to God that he raises their eyes as to the author of all that is good within them, as well as of all that is good in store for them. That they are in Christ at all is of God; that they shall abide in Him is of God; that they shall be fit to receive the reward in the end is of God. It is all of God and nothing at all of it is of themselves. From this plane of high supernaturalism in the application of the salvation wrought by the death of Christ the apostle departs in no single word in the whole epistle.
Participation in this salvation is certainly suspended on the proclamation and acceptance of the gospel. The very ground of Paul's thanks to God in behalf of the Thessalonians is that they had accepted the gospel (i. 2, 6; ii. 13). The very ground of his joy in being approved of God to be intrusted with this gospel turns on the inestimable importance of its proclamation; and Paul spared himself in nothing that he might proclaim it and proclaim it in its purity and with eager zeal (ii. i). He distinctly declares, indeed, that the salvation of men depends on the gospel reaching them, and makes it accordingly one of the chief counts in his terrible arraignment of the Jews that they showed themselves haters of men in forbidding him to speak to the Gentiles that they might be saved (ii. 16). Obviously, where the gospel is not conveyed, there is no salvation; where the gospel, though conveyed, is not accepted, there is no salvation.
But it does not at all follow, and Paul does not permit his readers for a moment to imagine that in his view it followed, that nothing is implied in its acceptance beyond opportunity to hear the gospel and a native movement of the natural will toward its acceptance. To him, on the contrary, man as a sinner is not an accepter of the gospel proclamation. That he ever accepts it is due proximately to a "call" from God—a call that operates within, at the center of his activities; and ultimately to his selection by God to be a recipient of His grace. Accordingly, it is God that Paul thanks for the entrance of his readers into the Christian life and hope, and it is to His election that he traces the fact of their acceptance of the gospel (ii. 2). And he emphatically declares that it is God that called His converts into His own kingdom and glory (ii. 13)— into His own kingdom and glory, as one would say, Who else can have the power to dispose of these but He? (iv. 7). Accordingly, too, Paul points his readers to this God who has called us not for uncleanness, but in sanctification, as to one who employs a mode of action which will not let his purpose in the call fail: "Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it." This "caller," in other words, is emphatically also the "performer."
So little does there lie in Paul's mind a sense of inconsistency between the two ideas of salvation coming to men through their acceptance of the truth and salvation communicated to men by the appointment of God, that in the central passage of all, in which the terms of his gospel are most fully set forth, he brings the two ideas together in the most significant manner. Fear not, he says, for God appointed us, "not unto wrath, but"—you will observe he does not say simply "but unto salvation," but, bringing out our personal act in receiving it, "but unto the obtaining, the acquisition of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." It is our "acquisition" —this salvation; and it comes to none who do not receive it. But that we acquire it, that we receive it by whatever subjective act, is only because of our appointment thereunto by God; or, as Paul puts it in the parallel passage in the second epistle, because " God has chosen us from the beginning unto salvation in sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, whereunto He called us through the gospel unto the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thes. ii. 13).
Thus, whenever Paul touches on the matter, he takes us at once back to God, and exhibits in the fullest light the inherent supernaturalism of His gospel. It is a gospel of salvation by the mighty power of God, prepared for in our eternal election, applied in our effectual call, completed by a prevalent keeping, and issuing at last in entrance into glory—all through the constant work of God, the faithful performer.
It is plain, therefore, that Paul's gospel to the Thessalonians was a gospel in which all the glory is given to God.
Its note from beginning to end is the note of soli Deo gloria. It is God, we repeat, whom he thanks for every Christian grace that he discovers in his readers. It is to God that he ascribes their very acceptance of the gospel that was offered them—to God who "called" them into His own kingdom and glory. It is to God that he ascribes every step they take in the life of holiness into which they have been called. It is to God that he prays that they may be perfected in their sanctification, and presented blameless before the throne of judgment at the last day. It is to God that he ascribes their keeping until that dread event. It is on God's faithfulness—the faithfulness of Him that calls—that he hangs all his and his converts' hopes of escaping the wrath they know they deserve: "Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it."
It is all of God; nothing is, in the ultimate analysis, of man. Man provides only the sinner to be saved: God provides the entire salvation. And though it is a man that God saves, and though He saves him, therefore, as a man, and as a man in the full exercise of all his activities that belong to him as a man—so that he is saved by the acceptance of the truth, in a life of holiness, through a perseverance in sanctification to the end—yet it is always and ever God to whom the acceptance, the walk, the endurance is due; who, in a word, is working at every step and in every stage both the willing and the doing in accordance with His own good pleasure. The details of God's modes of operation in bringing the vessels of His election, whom He has appointed not to wrath but to the obtaining of salvation, to entrance into His own kingdom and glory, are indeed little dwelt upon here. We hear of the Holy Spirit as the agent in performing the work, certainly (iv. 8; i. 5, 6; [v. 19]), but only incidentally, without pause for explanation. But the fact of the dependence of the whole process of salvation on the loving will of the Father, who selects and calls and sanctifies and glorifies whom He will, is the underlying assumption in every allusion. The soli Deo gloria sounds from end to end of the epistle as its dominant note.
And therefore, finally, the gospel of Paul to the Thessalonians is emphatically a gospel of faith, a gospel of trust.
The terms "believe" and "faith" do not occur with any especial frequency in this epistle (i. 7; ii. 10, 13; iv. 4; i. 3, 8; iii. 2, 5; vi. 10; v. 8). But the thing is a fundamental note of the whole letter. Just because the whole of salvation as proclaimed in Paul's gospel, in each of its steps and stages, runs back to God as its author and furtherer, a continual sense of humble dependence on God and of loving trust in Him is by it formed and fostered in every heart into which it makes entrance. Under the teachings of this gospel the eye is withdrawn from self and the face turned upward in loving gratitude to God, the great giver.
Now this attitude of trust and dependence on God is just the very essence of religion. In proportion as any sense of self-sufficiency or any dependence on self enters the heart, in that proportion religion is driven from it. And what other attitude is becoming or, indeed, possible in weak and sinful man? Can he wrest salvation from the unwilling hands of God? Can he retain it in his powerless grasp when once it is given him? No. If he is to be saved at all, it must be God that saves him; and the beginning and middle and end of his salvation must be alike of God. Every sinner, when once aroused to the sense of his sin, knows this for himself—knows it in the times of his clearest vision and deepest comprehension with a poignancy that drives him to despair. Paul's gospel meets the sinner's need; it provides a salvation from without, every step of which is of God. And it meets also the highest aspirations of the saint 'as well: for it justifies and strengthens his instinctive attitude of trust and his ineradicable conviction of dependence on the God of all grace. In one word, Paul's gospel to the Thessalonians, being through and through a gospel of trust, reveals itself to us as a gospel, as the only gospel, in which religion comes to its rights and by which the heart is drawn upward to the great heart of God, and is immovably attached to it in adoring love.
Oh, brethren, was this gospel for the Thessalonians only? Or shall we not hearken to it as also a gospel for us, to-day? Are we not, in our native condition, in like case with those to whom Paul first taught it? We look within us, and what do we see there but foul corruption, festering to spiritual death? We raise our eyes to heaven, and what do we observe there but the wrath of God turned against every doer of iniquity? We cast our eyes forward and peer into the future, and what can we discern as the closing scene of this drama of time in which our parts are cast but a dread day of judgment, when we shall receive the due reward of our wicked hearts and evil deeds? Does not the cry rise to the lips of each of us as that scene takes form more and more sharply in our vision,—
*' That fearful day, that day of speechless dread,
When Thou shalt come, to judge the quick and dead—
I shudder to foresee,
Oh, God, what then shall be?"
Oh, what glad tidings it is to hear of "Jesus our deliverer from the coming wrath "—of a salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who has died for us that we should live with Him, to which, rather than to this impending wrath, God has appointed us!
God has appointed us! Let us note that clause —for, ah, do we not know that it is not to this that we have appointed ourselves? Does not the proof of this lie all around us? Did we turn ourselves from our sins, or did we not rather delight ourselves in them? Was it we who sought out the ways of peace and joy, or did we not from the beginning scorn them and love rather the pursuit of evil? Can we even to-day keep our feet from falling? Oh, how we slip! Nay, how we willfully turn aside to do our own deeds! When we observe our ways, do we not know that it is not in us to attain the good? Let us hear, then, the rest of this gospel: "Faithful is He that calleth you, and it is He who will also do it." As it is He that has given His Son to die for us; as it is He who has appointed us to salvation in Him; as it is He that has called us into communion with His holy life; so it is He who will complete the work He has begun in us—it is He that will bring us in gladness to the goal. Let us trust, then, in Him! Let us trust, then, in Him! For it is in this trust—this trust in God, who is at once our Saviour and our salvation—that begins and centers and ends all our personal religion; that begins and centers and ends all our rational hope; that begins and centers and ends all our salvation. It is He that saves us and not we ourselves. Let us trust, then, in Him! Let us trust in Him!
FALSE RELIGIONS AND THE