In Christ Jesus
The Letter to the Thessalonians
The keynote of both of these letters is promptly struck in the third verse of the first chapter, in the phrase, "patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ." Here we are turned toward the future, the second coming of Him in whom we find the sphere of our final triumph over all foes. Hope looks forward to the future and fixes its gaze on this consummation, and hence becomes the profound secret of patience in present trials. The same blessed thought reap pears in verses 9-10. "To serve the living... God; and to wait for his Son from heaven."
These two epistles therefore carry us to the climax of the glorious truth which has lifted us to higher and higher elevations, as we have gone from summit to summit in studying this progress of doctrine; here the Holy Spirit gives us a glimpse of our final, ultimate, and complete victory in Christ over all enemies and all trials.
It will be remembered that, in the epistles to the Ephesians and the Colossians, we found one blessed privilege to lie in the future: in the former, our gathering together unto Him; and in the latter, our manifestation in Him. Here we are emphatically reminded of His reappearing, at which time this gathering together of all saints is to take place about the very Head of the mystical body; and their manifestation in Him, because He himself is to be manifested in glory.
The Holy Spirit guides the pen of Paul to write of these two future and crowning relations of blessing that yet await all God's saints. Compare II Thessalonians 2:1,8. "By our gathering together unto him," and, "the brightness of his coming" -- the epiphany of His parousia. Here we have both thoughts; and in fact both are found in the one verse which opens the second chapter: "Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him."
To get even a glimpse of this truth, we must first know what is included in this second advent of the Son of God, as it is set forth in these two letters to Thessalonica. We present the following as a partial analysis of their contents, but sufficient to hint at the wealth of suggestion herein to be discovered:
When Christ comes again to complete our salvation, there will be at least a fourfold triumph:
And in this triumph the saints are to be in every respect co-partakers with Christ. His triumph is theirs, and His joy is theirs.
Only in this grand consummation will it be possible to understand what it is to be in Christ Jesus. In our present experience several necessary hindrances exist to our full realization of the blessedness of our estate in Him.
First, all this sphere pertains to the invisible. We as yet belong to a material and temporal order. Things visible and sensible appeal to us, because our physical senses are on the alert to receive impression. We walk by sight naturally and inevitably; and the unseen and eternal can be apprehended and appreciated only in part, dimly, even by those whose inner spiritual senses are exercised to discern good and evil. To see the visible we need only to open our natural eyes. It is easier to keep them open than shut, and to walk by sight requires no effort. But to see the invisible and feel the power of the eternal, is not natural nor easy; it requires sedulous and constant effort -- the daily discipline of our higher senses.
These things evade and escape us if we are careless, nay, unless we are most prayerful and careful; and at times the most devout and circumspect believer loses the vision of their entrancing loveliness, preciousness, and glory, and sets his eye on the lower good that seems so much easier both to see and grasp. But when Christ comes again and is manifested, He will be revealed, and all our being will be filled with the enamoring sense of His reality, and we shall never lose sight of Him more. The now unseen and eternal will then be as vividly real as any objects of sight or sense.
Secondly, this sphere of our life in Christ is now of necessity partial. We are in this world, however little we may be of it, and we can not escape more or less of its contact, however free from its contamination. Our enjoyment of Christ is interrupted by earthly and carnal surroundings, even when the lower cravings are subdued. From time to time we are recalled to a painful sense of the fact that sin is in us, however free we may be from sins and sinning. We are compassed about with infirmity of body, mind, and will; and the thorn in the flesh can not be wholly forgotten even in the all-sufficient grace. The weakness is there, even while the strength is made perfect, for that is the condition of its perfect exhibition and manifestation.
Perhaps it is not too much to say that perfect enjoyment of God is impossible, for our condition and character are yet imperfect or unperfect. How different when the last bond is broken, the last tie severed, and we are free to be only in Christ, not even the body longer hindering our perfect resemblance to Him and perfect communion with Him! Whatapproximation to perfection may be possible, probably no saint has yet known or shown; doubtless greater measures of resemblance to Him and more complete absorption in Him are possible and practicable than any saint has ever yet experienced; but it is plain that we must wait until He comes, and we meet Him face to face, and with bodies fashioned like unto His, ourselves without blemish, as He is, before our inspherement in Him can reach its completeness.
Thirdly, our sphere of life in Christ is now contested. We are in the midst of adversaries, and sometimes their presence is more vividly and awfully real to us than that of our Advocate. Without are fightings, within are fears. However secure in Christ, we feel the danger to be constant and imminent. The five foes of whom we have found the Holy Spirit reminding us, are not slain, nor are they, to our experience, routed. They reappear with such frequency that we are never wholly free from their taunting, torturing presence. What saint, from Paul to Muller, has ever entirely found conscious liberty from the law in grace! How we need to keep reminding ourselves that we are on Sion, not under Sinai! How perpetually are we shadowed by the sense of condemnation! Who has ever entirely escaped the allurements of the world, so that he is actually dead to its censure or approval, indifferent to its opposition or cooperation, insensible to its attractions and its ridicule? Who is there who is never worldly-minded and finds no need of a new turning of the mirror of the mind from the lower to the higher realm?
Has any saint ever found the flesh and the carnal man subdued? The very fact that every one of us finds the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit contending against the flesh, and that we feel these to be contrary, one to the other, so that we may not, according to the Spirit, do the things that we would, according to the flesh, shows how to the last we have to acknowledge our deliverance to be but partial.
Need it be said that the self-life is never wholly destroyed in us while we are in the world? We may think that self is dead, but our very thought is an evidence of its survival, and perhaps a proof of its pride. We slay self in one form, and it seems to be the more alive in every other, until what we think the death of self-praise, proves only the boastfulness of a conscious humility which is proven, by such consciousness, to be no humility at all. Here is the subtlest of our foes, and the most persistent of life, as well as the most multiplied of form.
And as to the devil, obviously he is not dead. The saintliest priest of God can not stand at His altar without the unseen satanic foe at his right hand to resist him. We go up to the heavenlies in the rapt communion with God, but in the heavenlies are the hostile principalities and powers (Ephesians 6:10). There is no escape from the approach of this devouring lion. We may indeed escape his jaws and his paws, but we hear his roar and we tremble as we remember how many in their securest moments have become his victims.
The day will come, when even death, the last enemy, will be destroyed, and we shall be free to enjoy Him who is our life, without even the presence of a foe. What a life that will be in Him -- when the law is forever silenced as our accuser, and Sinai's summit forever disappears! What a freedom when sin no longer dwells in us, but our very nature is purged of its hateful presence! What a deliverance, when the world to come displaces the world that now is, and there are no allurements that draw from God! What a death, when self gives up the ghost, and the life of Christ is all the life we know! When the flesh and carnal mind are eternally gone, that the Spirit may rule every motion within us! And, when the bottomless pit closes its doors over the adversary of God and man, never again to release him; and, before the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the lion that roars in our path and seeks to devour our souls, falls in final destruction -- what a shout of deliverance will ring through all the universe of redeemed souls and unfallen angels!
Over these two epistles might be written one sublime word, victory. A salvation complete and glorious draws nearer than when we believed, and this is held up before us continually in these two letters. The phrases which abound here are found in their variety and combination nowhere else, for they grow naturally out of such a soil: "patience of hope," "joy of the Holy Ghost," "to wait for his Son from heaven," "God who hath called you unto his kingdom and glory," "at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all his saints," "the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven," etc. And, as these phrases abound, so these epistles abound in arguments for holy living drawn from the glorious and blessed hope which illumines the future. There is scarce a grace or virtue in the whole blessed catalogue of saintly excellencies and adornments, for which this future victory and glory presents no new incentive; obedience, service, patience, fidelity, self-denial, love, meditation on the Word, joy, comfort, steadfastness, zeal, sanctity, honesty, hope, consolation, vigilance, humility, gentleness, supplication, separation to God, peace -- all that is most lovely and most helpful is made to hang upon the cherishing of the blessed assurance of our final triumph and blessedness, in Him who is the coming One. Only so far as this blessed hope is obscurred or practically becomes inoperative in our lives, will our character and conduct as disciples degenerate.
Let us remember that the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ is the consummation of all things which pertain to our redemption. It introduces the sublime closing scenes in the whole history of salvation. There is much that cannot be revealed to the Church and to the angelic host in the age that now is, and God waits for the ages to come to make known His manifold wisdom and grace. He finds in our present experience no data from which to convey a fit knowledge -- no dialect sufficiently meaningful to express the inexpressible things which must wait for the revelation of experience.
The more devoutly we study the Word, the more we shall discover that, like our Lord's first advent, the present revelation of grace is a necessary hiding of God's true power; new conditions are necessary for a full disclosure. When He comes again He will not come in disguise, but in proper attire and with proper attendance. He will be revealed as never before. And all spiritual truth and fact, pertaining to the believer, waits for His true epiphany, when His glory shall emerge out of clouds into fulness of revelation. We can only, like the Thessalonians, "serve and wait." To the most mature saint, that coming day is to be as absolute a surprise as the third heaven mysteries were to Paul. God has something beyond all we have conceived, waiting for us, at Christ's appearing. The words used to intimate it are the best human language supplies, but the mold is too small for the conception, and so cramps it and so distorts it. We must see in order to know, and for that vision we wait, with longing and expectant eyes, until the dazzling splendor of the coming King shall declare what no words can reveal or unveil.
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