The Effect of the Word of
Christianity is aggressive. It carries on a warfare with powers unseen, though not unfelt. It has for its sphere, the world; and for its object, to turn souls from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. Judaism was strictly conservative. God had confided to Israel the testimony of the existence of one true God. "Hear, O Israel, Jehovah our God is one Jehovah." (Deut. 6:4) The idols of Egypt had been unconscious witnesses of His power. Israel had experienced again and again that He was God, and there was none beside Him. In the midst of the nations of the earth they should have preserved this testimony; for preservation of truth communicated, not the conversion of others, was the special service given them with reference to the kingdoms with which they had intercourse. Gods people they were: this was a privilege none others could enjoy. The stranger, if circumcised, could eat the Passover; he could also rejoice with Israel at the feasts of Weeks and Tabernacles before the Lord; but he remained a stranger still.
From the day of Pentecost a new order of things commenced. Simeon had predicted that the Lord would be "a light for revelation of [not to lighten] the Gentiles;" and James, at Jerusalem, years afterwards, bore witness that "God had visited the Gentiles to take out of them a people for His name." An Exodus as real as that of Israel from Egypt, though not manifested in the same way, ought surely to characterize the accomplishment of this purpose. Though no external marks of divine displeasure as yet appear on that which they leave, those bought out should have as deep a sense of the worthlessness of the world, and the things of the world, as ever Israel had when judgement was executed by Jehovah on the gods of their taskmasters. Should there not be as marked a coming out from all that formerly enslaved the soul, as when the 600,000 men, besided women and children, journeyed from Rameses to Pi-hahiroth, and then traversed the bed of the Red Sea? All Egypt knew that Israel had departed. Should not the world be constrained to attest the reality of the conversion of souls? Is this commonly the case now? Was this the character of the work in apostolic times? We leave to the reader to answer the first question.
Is not what follows an answer to the second? At Rome, at Athens, at Corinth, at Ephesus, as well as at Jerusalem and Antioch, God worked and souls were converted. But at Thessalonica a work was commenced, carried on, and completed within a short time, as far as the apostles preaching was concerned, which became a pattern or "type" of what may be achieved by evangelization, and what those evangelized should exhibit. And the example the church at Thessalonica set is the more valuable, because the majority certainly of the converts were, previous to the apostles visit, heathens. The change to them and in them was immense. The marks of it as seen by others were unmistakeable. These converts had a faith, a definite hope, and a clear object before them. No haze clouded their minds; no uncertainty dimmed their perception of the truth. The message was plainly delivered, and simply received. They had life, and life in its activity, developing itself in a healthy and true way. There may be, how oftentimes there is, such feebleness of life that its very presence is doubted. In Pauls mind, there was not a mere hope about their spiritual existence: there was certainty. He could thank God for their decided conversion. He "remembered without ceasing their work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope of the Lord Jesus Christ." The work in them being real, he could speak to God about it. He thanked God for the fruits brought forth. He saw by their progress, he knew by their life, that they were of the number of the elect. Hence he owns them as brethren, and writes of them as beloved of God; "knowing," he writes, "brethren, beloved of God, your election." Their faith, their love, their hope, all these were manifest.
And this epistle, though written soon after their conversion, was not penned till their steadfastness in the truth had been tested, and the reality of their faith plainly demonstrated. (I Thess. 3:6) They had suffered persecution from their countrymen (2:14), yet their faith had not given way (1:3; 3:6). They had endured much, yet it had not soured them. Their love to the brethren was patent: on that score Paul had nothing to correct; he had only to urge an increase of it (3:12). It had spread far and wide, even to all the brethren which were in all Macedonia. It reached even beyond them, for it embraced all men (4:9-10). They had given up a position of present ease for one of trial and persecution. They had a hope, but they knew it could never be fulfilled on earth, yet they fainted not. The enduring constancy of the hope of (not in) the Lord Jesus sustained them. Thus life in its activity, life with its characteristic affections, life in patient endurance of tribulation was theirs.
But what had wrought this change? "Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." They heard the word, they felt its power, they were made sensible of the presence of the Holy Ghost, and full conviction of the truth pervaded their souls. What effects can proceed from the reception of the gospel - "our gospel," as Paul describes it - when received not as the word of God, which works effectually in them that believe! They heard Paul and Silas preach; but the words, they felt, conveyed truth from God to their souls. It was Gods word to which they gave ear, which quickened, and after that continued to work in their hearts. Conversion with them was but the commencement. The word then began to work in them, but did not stop working in their souls. The instrument employed was divine and effective; and the lives of the agents bore testimony to the power of the same word over their souls. Joy filled the hearts of these simple believers. They received the word in much affliction with joy of the Holy Ghost. As they received the truth they felt its power, and made those around them sensible that they felt it. Situated on the great highway between Rome and the country north of the Aegean Sea, the report of their conversion was not confined to their town and its vicinity. "From you," he writes, "sounded out the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to Godward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything. For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you."
So decided was the change, so manifest the work, that all were speaking of it. Those in Macedonia and Achaia heard the report of it. Those surely who could not understand it yet talked of it. Paul and Silas had, we cannot doubt, many interesting details about it, which they could have communicated to others, but they had no need to make known the work that had been done. From the converts, not from the evangelists, people discovered it. Well might the Gentiles take note of it, for the change was great. "They had turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God." Objects of sight had been given up for One they had never seen. As a living God they owned Him, for they had experienced His power to impart life. As a true God they confessed Him, and forsook the worship of idols. The ideas of a lifetime were discarded. Faith took the place of sight. It was not a change of gods, but the finding for the first time of God. The position now taken up put them of necessity in opposition to all around them. Divided service for them there could be none: all the gods of the heathen had become to them vanity. There was but one living and true God, and Him they would henceforth worship.
And let us observe the language - "They turned to God from idols." It was not a mere negation that occupied them; it was not a position of protesting simply against error that they took up; it was something positive their hearts were occupied with - they turned to God from idols. Nor was it a desire to emancipate themselves from all control that possessed them; for they turned, be it remarked, to serve a living and true God. Had He given them all they desired? He had in prospect, but not in possession. Their condition on earth did not improve by the change; it became sensibly and permanently worse. They found enemies among their countrymen they had never found before. They found, too, vehement opposers among the Jews, who had never troubled themselves about them when heathens. Yet they were steadfast; for they waited for Gods Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, who would deliver them from the wrath to come. Their very attitude spoke volumes. It spoke of a hope unfulfilled, a desire unsatisfied, an object unseen. For this, for Him- for it was a person- Gods Son, they waited. Earth was no longer their home. Their eyes were turned up to heaven.
One can fancy the contemptuous look of a Greek, who imagined he had risen by philosophy above the follies of his day, as he heard of these believers forsaking idols for a God they had never seen, who did not shelter His own Son from death. What an occasion for the unbelieving Jew to snatch, as he would think, a triumph from these words, "Whom He raised from the dead." For he might tell, that the One they called Gods Son had owned on the cross that He was forsaken of God. Could the One forsaken of God on the cross save others from wrath? To all such taunts the Thessalonians had a ready answer. They had tasted of a joy of the Holy Ghost they had never known before, and the words they heard had a power, which no mere words of mad had, or could have. Like the beggar of John 9, they could speak of something within the range of their own experience, and they knew Him for whom they now waited. One word more. How this word "wait" manifests the simplicity of their faith! All questions about sin were for them settled. All uncertainty about their future was removed. They knew He would come to judge the wicked; but they were sure of deliverance from the wrath to come, for they had received the word "in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance." To wait, not to work, for deliverance was their business. The work by which salvation was secured was already finished. They were converted from idolatry and heathenism to wait for Gods Son from heaven, who would take them to be in the glory with Himself.
The first epistle speaks of the obtaining salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ (5:9); the second, of the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ (2:14). Presumption, the Jew might have said, to be sure of this! "Presumption!", many professing and indeed real Christians say in these days. It is presumption to doubt instead of believing, to dispute Gods testimony instead of resting on it. What an example as well as a reproof, to souls in the present day are these simple-minded converts from heathenism.
Home | Links | Writings | Biography