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  • ADAM CLARKE'S BIBLE COMMENTARY -
    1 THESSALONIANS 4

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    CHAPTER IV

    The apostle exhorts them to attend to the directions which he had already given them, that they might know how to walk and please God, 1, 2. Gives them exhortations concerning continence, chastity, and matrimonial fidelity, 3-8. Speaks concerning their love to each other, and love to the Churches of Christ; and exhorts them to continue and increase in it, 9, 10. Counsels them to observe an inoffensive conduct, to mind their own affairs, to do their own business, and to live honestly\ \, 11, 12. Not to sorrow for the dead, as persons who have no hope of a resurrection; because to Christians the resurrection of Christ is a proof of the resurrection of his followers, 13, 14. Gives a short but awful description of the appearing of Christ to judge the world, 15.

    NOTES ON CHAP. IV.

    Verse 1. "We beseech you, brethren, and exhort" - We give you proper instructions in heavenly things, and request you to attend to our advice.

    The apostle used the most pressing entreaties; for he had a strong and affectionate desire that this Church should excel in all righteousness and true holiness.

    "Please God more and more." - God sets no bounds to the communications of his grace and Spirit to them that are faithful. And as there are no bounds to the graces, so there should be none to the exercise of those graces. No man can ever feel that he loves God too much, or that he loves man too much for God's sake.

    Verse 2. "Ye know what commandments we gave you" - This refers to his instructions while he was among them; and to instructions on particular subjects, which he does not recapitulate, but only hints at.

    Verse 3. "This is the will of God, even your sanctification" - God has called you to holiness; he requires that you should be holy; for without holiness none can see the Lord. This is the general calling, but in it many particulars are included. Some of these he proceeds to mention; and it is very likely that these had been points on which he gave them particular instructions while among them.

    "That ye should abstain from fornication" - The word porneia, as we have seen in other places, includes all sorts of uncleanness; and it was probably this consideration that induced several MSS., some versions and fathers, to add here pashv, all. Directions of this kind were peculiarly necessary among the Greeks, and indeed heathens in general, who were strongly addicted to such vices.

    Verse 4. "How to possess his vessel" - Let every man use his wife for the purpose alone for which God created her, and instituted marriage. The word akeuov answers to the Hebrew ylk keli, which, though it signifies vessel in general, has several other meanings. That the rabbins frequently express wife by it, Schoettgen largely proves; and to me it appears very probable that the apostle uses it in that sense here. St. Peter calls the wife the weaker VESSEL, 1 Pet. iii. 7. Others think that the body is meant, which is the vessel in which the soul dwells. In this sense St. Paul uses it, 2 Cor. iv. 7: We have this treasure in earthen VESSELS; and in this sense it is used by both Greek and Roman authors. There is a third sense which interpreters have put on the word, which I forbear to name. The general sense is plain; purity and continency are most obviously intended, whether the word be understood as referring to the wife or the husband, as the following verse sufficiently proves.

    Verse 5. "Not in the lust of concupiscence" - Having no rational object, aim, nor end. Some say, "not like beasts;" but this does not apply as they who use it wish, for the males and females of the brute creation are regular and consistent in their intercourse, and scarcely ever exceed such bounds as reason itself would prescribe to those most capable of observing and obeying its dictates.

    "The Gentiles which know not God" - These are the beasts; their own brutes are rational creatures when compared with them. Enough has been said on this subject on Romans 1, and 2: They who wish to see more may consult Juvenal, and particularly his 6th and 9th Satires; and indeed all the writers on Greek and Roman morals.

    Verse 6. "That no man go beyond and defraud his brother" - That no man should by any means endeavour to corrupt the wife of another, or to alienate her affections or fidelity from her husband; this I believe to be the apostle's meaning, though some understand it of covetousness, overreaching, tricking, cheating, and cozenage in general.

    "The Lord is the avenger of all such" - He takes up the cause of the injured husband wherever the case has not been detected by man, and all such vices he will signally punish. Every species of uncleanness was practised among the heathens, nor were they reputed as vices. Their gods, their emperors, their philosophers, and their great men in general, gave them examples of every species of impurity; and they had no system of ethics which forbade these abominations. The Christian religion not only discountenances these things, but forbids them on the most awful penalties; therefore wherever Christianity prevails, these vices, if practised at all, are obliged to seek the deepest gloom of midnight to cover them from the eyes of men. On this account they are comparatively rare, even among the mere professors of Christianity; they exist, but do not flourish.

    Verse 7. "God hath not called us unto uncleanness" - He is the creator of male and female, and the institutor of marriage, and he has called men and women to this state; but the end of this and all the other callings of God to man is holiness, not uncleanness. And they who use the marriage state as he directs, will find it conducive to their holiness and perfection.

    Verse 8. "He therefore that despiseth" - He who will not receive these teachings, and is led either to undervalue or despise them, despises not us but God, from whom we have received our commission, and by whose Spirit we give these directions. see on "ver. 15".

    "Hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit." - Instead of eiv hmav, unto US, eiv umav, unto YOU, is the reading of BDEFG, a great many others, the Syriac, all the Arabic, Armenian, later Syriac in the margin, some oś the Itala, Clement, Didymus, and Ambrosiaster; this seems to be the better reading. God has taught us that we may teach you; and he has also given you his Holy Spirit that ye might understand and be enabled to practice these things. It is one thing to receive a revelation from the Spirit of God; it is another thing to receive that Spirit to enable a man to live according to that revelation. In the first sense the apostles alone received this Holy Spirit; in the latter sense all true Christians, as well as the Thessalonians, receive it. I think umav, you, is the true reading, and that it is confirmed by the following verse: For ye yourselves are TAUGHT OF GOD to love one another. Griesbach has inserted it in the margin, but has not admitted it into the text, because it has not what he deemed full support from those MSS. which are of the Alexandrian recension; but he thought its genuineness very probable.

    Verse 9. "Touching brotherly love" - They were remarkable for this; and though the apostle appears to have had this as a topic on which he intended to write to them, yet, from the account which he received of their prosperous state by Timothy, he finds that it is unnecessary to spend any time in inculcating a doctrine which they fully understood and practised. See chap. iii. 6.

    Verse 10. "Ye do it toward all the brethren" - Ye not only love one another at Thessalonica, but ye love all the brethren in Macedonia; ye consider them all as children of the same Father; and that all the Churches which are in Christ make one great and glorious body, of which he is the head.

    Verse 11. "That ye study to be quiet" - Though in general the Church at Thessalonica was pure and exemplary, yet there seem to have been some idle, tattling people among them, who disturbed the peace of others; persons who, under the pretense of religion, gadded about from house to house; did not work, but were burdensome to others; and were continually meddling with other people's business, making parties, and procuring their bread by religious gossipping. To these the apostle gives those directions which the whole Church of God should enforce wherever such troublesome and dangerous people are found; viz: That they should study to be quiet, hsucazein, to hold their peace, as their religious cant will never promote true religion; that they should do their own business, and let that of others alone; and that they should work with their own hands, and not be a burden to the Church of God, or to those well meaning but weak and inconsiderate people who entertain them, being imposed on by their apparent sanctity and glozing conversation. An idle person, though able to discourse like an angel, or pray like an apostle, cannot be a Christian; all such are hypocrites and deceivers; the true members of the Church of Christ walk, work, and labour.

    Verse 12. "That ye may walk honestly" - euschmonwv? Becomingly, decently, respectably; as is consistent with the purity, holiness, gravity, and usefulness of your Christian calling.

    "Them that are without" - The unconverted Gentiles and Jews. See this expression explained at large on Col. iv. 5.

    "That ye may have lack of nothing." - That ye may be able to get your bread by honest labour, which God will ever bless; and be chargeable to no man.

    He that is dependent on another is necessarily in bondage; and he who is able to get his own bread by the sweat of his brow, should not be under obligation even to a king.

    I do not recollect whether, in any other part of this work, I have given the following story from the Hatem Tai Nameh. Hatem Tai was an Arabian nobleman, who flourished some time before the Mahommedan era; he was reputed the most generous and liberal man in all the east. One day he slew one hundred camels, and made a feast, to which all the Arabian lords and all the peasantry in the district were invited. About the time of the feast he took a walk towards a neighbouring wood, to see if he could find any person whom he might invite to partake of the entertainment which he had then provided. Walking along the skirt of the wood, he espied an old man coming out of it, laden with a burden of faggots; he accosted him and asked if he had not heard of the entertainment made that day by Hatem Tai. The old man answered in the affirmative. He asked him why he did not attend and partake with the rest. The old man answered: "He that is able to gain his bread even by collecting faggots in the wood, should not be beholden even to Hatem Tai." This is a noble saying, and has long been a rule of conduct to the writer of this note.

    Verse 13. "I would not have you to be ignorant" - Instead of ecomen, have, qelomen, wish, is the reading of ADEFG, many others, besides the Arabic, AEthiopic, Armenian, some of the Slavonian, the Vulgate, and Itala, with many of the Greek fathers. This is undoubtedly the true reading: Brethren, I would not wish you to be ignorant; or, I would not that you should be ignorant.

    This was probably one of the points which were lacking in their faith, that he wished to go to Thessalonica to instruct them in.

    "Them which are asleep" - That is, those who are dead. It is supposed that the apostle had heard that the Thessalonians continued to lament over their dead, as the heathens did in general who had no hope of the resurrection of the body; and that they had been puzzled concerning the doctrine of the resurrection. To set them right on this important subject, he delivers three important truths:

    1. He asserts, as he had done before, that they who died in the Lord should have, in virtue of Christ's resurrection, a resurrection unto eternal life and blessedness. 2. He makes a new discovery, that the last generation should not die at all, but be in a moment changed to immortals. 3. He adds another new discovery, that, though the living should not die, but be transformed, yet the dead should first be raised, and be made glorious and immortal; and so, in some measure, have the preference and advantage of such as shall then be found alive. See Dodd.

    Verse 14. "For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again" - ei gar? Seeing that we believe; knowing that the resurrection of Christ is as fully authenticated as his death.

    "Even so them" - It necessarily follows that them who sleep - die, in him - in the faith of the Gospel, will God bring with him - he will raise them up as Jesus was raised from the dead, in the same manner, i.e. by his own eternal power and energy; and he will bring them with him - with Christ, for he is the head of the Church, which is his body.

    Verse 15. "This we say unto you by the word of the Lord" - This I have, by express revelation, from the Lord: what he now delivers, he gives as coming immediately from the Spirit of God. Indeed, human reason could not have found out the points which he immediately subjoins; no conjectures could lead to them. Allowing even the general doctrine of the resurrection to be believed, yet what follows does not flow from the premises; they are doctrines of pure revelation, and such as never could have been found out by human ingenuity. In no place does the apostle speak more confidently and positively of his inspiration than here; and we should prepare ourselves to receive some momentous and interesting truth.

    "We which are alive, and remain" - By the pronoun we the apostle does not intend himself, and the Thessalonians to whom he was then writing; he is speaking of the genuine Christians which shall be found on earth when Christ comes to judgment. From not considering the manner in which the apostle uses this word, some have been led to suppose that he imagined that the day of judgment would take place in that generation, and while he and the then believers at Thessalonica were in life. But it is impossible that a man, under so direct an influence of the Holy Spirit, should be permitted to make such a mistake: nay, no man in the exercise of his sober reason could have formed such an opinion; there was nothing to warrant the supposition; no premises from which it could be fairly deduced; nor indeed any thing in the circumstances of the Church, nor in the constitution of the world, that could have suggested a hint of the kind. The apostle is speaking of the thing indefinitely as to the time when it shall happen, but positively as to the ORDER that shall be then observed.

    "Shall not prevent them which are asleep." - Those who shall be found living in that day, though they shall not pass through death, but be suddenly changed, shall not go to glory before them that are dead, for the dead in Christ shall rise first - they shall be raised, their bodies made glorious, and be caught up to meet the Lord, before the others shall be changed. And this appears to be the meaning of the apostle's words, mh fqaswmen, which we translate shall not prevent; for, although this word prevent, from prae and venio, literally signifies to go before, yet we use it now in the sense of to hinder or obstruct. fqanein tina signifies the same, according to Hesychius, as prohkein, to go before, prolambanein, to anticipate, be before. Those who shall be found alive on that day shall not anticipate glory before the dead in Christ; for they shall rise first, and begin the enjoyment of it before the others shall be changed. This appears to be the apostle's meaning.

    Verse 16. "The Lord himself" - That is: Jesus Christ shall descend from heaven; shall descend in like manner as he was seen by his disciples to ascend, i.e. in his human form, but now infinitely more glorious; for thousands of thousands shall minister unto him, and ten thousand times ten thousand shall stand before him; for the Son of man shall come on the throne of his glory: but who may abide the day of his coming, or stand when he appeareth? With a shout] Or order, en keleusmati? and probably in these words.

    Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment; which order shall be repeated by the archangel, who shall accompany it with the sound of the trump of God, whose great and terrible blasts, like those on mount Sinai, sounding louder and louder, shall shake both the heavens and the earth! Observe the order of this terribly glorious day:

    1. Jesus, in all the dignity and splendour of his eternal majesty, shall descend from heaven to the mid region, what the apostle calls the air, somewhere within the earth's atmosphere. 2. Then the keleusma, shout or order, shall be given for the dead to arise. 3. Next the archangel, as the herald of Christ, shall repeat the order, Arise, ye dead, and come to judgment! 4. When all the dead in Christ are raised, then the trumpet shall sound, as the signal for them all to flock together to the throne of Christ. It was by the sound of the trumpet that the solemn assemblies, under the law, were convoked; and to such convocations there appears to be here an allusion. 5. When the dead in Christ are raised, their vile bodies being made like unto his glorious body, then, 6. Those who are alive shall be changed, and made immortal. 7. These shall be caught up together with them to meet the Lord in the air. 8. We may suppose that the judgment will now be set, and the books opened, and the dead judged out of the things written in those books. 9. The eternal states of quick and dead being thus determined, then all who shall be found to have made a covenant with him by sacrifice, and to have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, shall be taken to his eternal glory, and be for ever with the Lord. What an inexpressibly terrific glory will then be exhibited! I forbear to call in here the descriptions which men of a poetic turn have made of this terrible scene, because I cannot trust to their correctness; and it is a subject which we should speak of and contemplate as nearly as possible in the words of Scripture.

    Verse 18. "Comfort one another with these words." - Strange saying! comfort a man with the information that he is going to appear before the judgment-seat of God! Who can feel comfort from these words? That man alone with whose spirit the Spirit of God bears witness that his sins are blotted out, and the thoughts of whose heart are purified by the inspiration of Gods Holy Spirit, so that he can perfectly love him, and worthily magnify his name. Reader, thou art not in a safe state unless it be thus with thee, or thou art hungering and thirsting after righteousness. If so, thou shalt be filled; for it is impossible that thou shouldst be taken away in thy sins, while mourning after the salvation of God. They that seek shall find.

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