Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 42: Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
1 Thessalonians 5:1-5
1. But of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you.
1. Porro de temporibus et articulis temporum non opus habetis, ut vobis scribatur.
2. For yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night.
2. Ipsi enim optime scitis, quod dies Domini tanquam fur in nocte sic veniet.
3. For when they shall say, Peace and safety, then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman with child; and they shall not escape.
3. Quando enim dixerint, Pax et securitas, tunc repentinus ipsis superveniet interitus, quasi dolor partus mulieri praegnanti, nec effugient.
4. But ye, brethren, are not in darkness, that that day should overtake you as a thief.
4. Vos autem, fratres, non estis in tenebris, ut dies ille vos quasi fur opprimat.
5. Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness.
5. Omnes vos filii lucis estis, et filii diei: non sumus noctis, neque tenebrarum.
1 But as to times. He now, in the third place, calls them back from a curious and unprofitable inquiry as to times, but in the mean time admonishes them to be constantly in a state of preparation for receiving Christ. 589 He speaks, however, by way of anticipation, saying, that they have no need that he should write as to those things which the curious desire to know. For it is an evidence of excessive incredulity not to believe what the Lord foretells, unless he marks out the day by certain circumstances, and as it were points it out with the finger. As, therefore, those waver between doubtful opinions who require that moments of time should be marked out for them, as if they would draw a conjecture 590 from some plausible demonstration, he accordingly says that discussions of this nature are not necessary for the pious. There is also another reason — that believers do not desire to know more than they are permitted to learn in God’s school. Now Christ designed that the day of his coming should be hid from us, that, being in suspense, we might be as it were upon watch.
2 Ye know perfectly. He places exact knowledge in contrast with an anxious desire of investigation. But what is it that he says the Thessalonians know accurately? 591 It is, that the day of Christ will come suddenly and unexpectedly, so as to take unbelievers by surprise, as a thief does those that are asleep. This, however, is opposed to evident tokens, which might portend afar off his coming to the world. Hence it were foolish to wish to determine the time precisely from presages or prodigies.
3 For when they shall say. Here we have an explanation of the similitude, the day of the Lord will be like a thief in the night. Why so? because it will come suddenly to unbelievers, when not looked for, so that it will take them by surprise, as though they were asleep. But whence comes that sleep? Assuredly from deep contempt of God. The prophets frequently reprove the wicked on account of this supine negligence, and assuredly they await in a spirit of carelessness not merely that last judgment, but also such as are of daily occurrence. Though the Lord threatens destruction, 592 they do not hesitate to promise themselves peace and every kind of prosperity. And the reason why they fall into this destructive indolence 593 is, because they do not see those things immediately accomplished, which the Lord declares will take place, for they reckon that to be fabulous that does not immediately present itself before their eyes. For this reason the Lord, in order that he may avenge this carelessness, which is full of obstinacy, comes all on a sudden, and contrary to the expectation of all, precipitates the wicked from the summit of felicity. He sometimes furnishes tokens of this nature of a sudden advent, but that will be the principal one, when Christ will come down to judge the world, as he himself testifies, (Mt 24:37) comparing that time to the age of Noe, inasmuch as all will give way to excess, as if in the profoundest repose.
As the pains of child-bearing. Here we have a most apt similitude, inasmuch as there is no evil that seizes more suddenly, and that presses more keenly and more violently on the very first attack; besides this, a woman that is with child carries in her womb occasion of grief without feeling it, until she is seized amidst feasting and laughter, or in the midst of sleep.
4 But ye, brethren. He now admonishes them as to what is the duty of believers, that they look forward in hope to that day, though it be remote. And this is what is intended in the metaphor of day and light. The coming of Christ will take by surprise those that are carelessly giving way to indulgence, because, being enveloped in darkness, they see nothing, for no darkness is more dense than ignorance of God. We, on the other hand, on whom Christ has shone by the faith of his gospel, differ much from them, for that saying of Isaiah is truly accomplished in us, that
while darkness covers the earth, the Lord arises upon us, and his glory is seen in us. (Isa 60:2)
He admonishes us, therefore, that it were an unseemly thing that we should be caught by Christ asleep, as it were, or seeing nothing, while the full blaze of light is shining forth upon us. He calls them children of light, in accordance with the Hebrew idiom, as meaning — furnished with light; as also children of the day, meaning — those who enjoy the light of day. 594 And this he again confirms, when he says that we are not of the night nor of darkness, because the Lord has rescued us from it. For it is as though he had said, that we have not been enlightened by the Lord with a view to our walking in darkness.
1 Thessalonians 5:6-10
6. Therefore let us not sleep, as do others; but let us watch and be sober.
6. Ergo ne dormiamus ut reliqui, sed vigilemus, et sobrii simus.
7. For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night.
7. Qui enim dormiunt, nocte dormiunt: et qui ebrii sunt, nocte ebrii sunt.
8. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation.
8. Nos autem qui sumus diei, sobrii simus, induti thorace fidei et caritatis, et galea, spe salutis:
9. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
9. Quia non constituit nos Deus in iram, sed in acquisitionem salutis, per Dominum nostrum Iesum Christum:
10. Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
10. Qui mortuus est pro nobis. ut sive vigilemus, sive dormiamus, simul cum ipso vivamus.
6 Therefore let us not sleep. He adds other metaphors closely allied to the preceding one. For as he lately shewed that it were by no means seemly that they should be blind in the midst of light, so he now admonishes that it were dishonorable and disgraceful to sleep or be drunk in the middle of the day. Now, as he gives the name of day to the doctrine of the gospel, by which the Christ, the Sun of righteousness (Mal 4:2) is manifested to us, so when he speaks of sleep and drunkenness, he does not mean natural sleep, or drunkenness from wine, but stupor of mind, when, forgetting God and ourselves, we regardlessly indulge our vices. Let us not sleep, says he; that is, let us not, sunk in indolence, become senseless in the world. As others, that is, unbelievers, 595 from whom ignorance of God, like a dark night, takes away understanding and reason. But let us watch, that is, let us look to the Lord with an attentive mind. And be sober, that is, casting away the cares of the world, which weigh us down by their pressure, and throwing off base lusts, mount to heaven with freedom and alacrity. For this is spiritual sobriety, when we use this world so sparingly and temperately that we are not entangled with its allurements.
8 Having put on the breastplate. He adds this, that he may the more effectually shake us out of our stupidity, for he calls us as it were to arms, that he may shew that it is not a time to sleep. It is true that he does not make use of the term war; but when he arms us with a breastplate and a helmet, he admonishes us that we must maintain a warfare. Whoever, therefore, is afraid of being surprised by the enemy, must keep awake, that he may be constantly on watch. As, therefore, he has exhorted to vigilance, on the ground that the doctrine of the gospel is like the light of day, so he now stirs us up by another argument — that we must wage war with our enemy. From this it follows, that idleness is too hazardous a thing. For we see that soldiers, though in other situations they may be intemperate, do nevertheless, when the enemy is near, from fear of destruction, refrain from gluttony 596 and all bodily delights, and are diligently on watch so as to be upon their guard. As, therefore, Satan is on the alert against us, and tries a thousand schemes, we ought at least to be not less diligent and watchful. 597
It is, however, in vain, that some seek a more refined exposition of the names of the kinds of armor, for Paul speaks here in a different way from what he does in Eph 6:14 for there he makes righteousness the breastplate. This, therefore, will suffice for understanding his meaning, that he designs to teach, that the life of Christians is like a perpetual warfare, inasmuch as Satan does not cease to trouble and molest them. He would have us, therefore, be diligently prepared and on the alert for resistance: farther, he admonishes us that we have need of arms, because unless we be well armed we cannot withstand so powerful 598 an enemy. He does not, however, enumerate all the parts of armor, (πανοπλίαν,) but simply makes mention of two, the breastplate and the helmet. In the mean time, he omits nothing of what belongs to spiritual armor, for the man that is provided with faith, love, and hope, will be found in no department unarmed.
9 For God hath not appointed us. As he has spoken of the hope of salvation, he follows out that department, and says that God has appointed us to this — that we may obtain salvation through Christ. The passage, however, might be explained in a simple way in this manner — that we must put on the helmet of salvation, because God wills not that we should perish, but rather that we should be saved. And this, indeed, Paul means, but, in my opinion, he has in view something farther. For as the day of Christ is for the most part regarded with alarm, 599 having it in view to close with the mention of it, he says that we are appointed to salvation
The Greek term περιποίησις means enjoyment, (as they speak,) as well as acquisition. Paul, undoubtedly, does not mean that God has called us, that we may procure salvation for ourselves, but that we may obtain it, as it has been acquired for us by Christ. Paul, however, encourages believers to fight strenuously, setting before them the certainty of victory; for the man who fights timidly and hesitatingly is half-conquered. In these words, therefore, he had it in view to take away the dread which arises from distrust. There cannot, however, be a better assurance of salvation gathered, than from the decree 600 of God. The term wrath, in this passage, as in other instances, is taken to mean the judgment or vengeance of God against the reprobate.
10 Who died. From the design of Christ’s death he confirms what he has said, for if he died with this view — that he might make us partakers of his life, there is no reason why we should be in doubt as to our salvation. It is doubtful, however, what he means now by sleeping and waking, for it might seem as if he meant life and death, and this meaning would be more complete. At the same time, we might not unsuitably interpret it as meaning ordinary sleep. The sum is this — that Christ died with this view, that he might bestow upon us his life, which is perpetual and has no end. It is not to be wondered, however, that he affirms that we now live with Christ, inasmuch as we have, by entering through faith into the kingdom of Christ, passed from death into life. (Joh 5:24) Christ himself, into whose body we are ingrafted, quickens us by his power, and the Spirit that dwelleth in us is life, because of justification 601
1 Thessalonians 5:11—14
11. Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.
11. Quare exhortamini (vel, consolamini) vos invicem, et aedificate singuli singulos, sicut et facitis.
12. And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you;
12. Rogamus autem vos, fratres, ut agnoscatis eos, qui laborant in vobis, et praesunt vobis in Domino, et admonent vos:
13. And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.
13. Ut eos habeatis in summo pretio cum caritate propter opus ipsorum: pacem habete cum ipsis, (vel, inter vos.)
14. Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feebleminded, support the weak, be patient toward all men
14. Hortamur autem vos, fratres, monete inordinatos, consolamini pusillanimos, suscipite infirmos, patientes estote erga omnes.
11 Exhort. It is the same word that we had in the close of the preceding chapter, and which we rendered comfort, because the context required it, and the same would not suit ill with this passage also. For what he has treated of previously furnishes matter of both — of consolation as well as of exhortation. He bids them, therefore, communicate to one another what has been given them by the Lord. He adds, that they may edify one another — that is, may confirm each other in that doctrine. Lest, however, it might seem as if he reproved them for carelessness, he says at the same time that they of their own accord did what he enjoins. But, as we are slow to what is good, those that are the most favourably inclined of all, have always, nevertheless, need to be stimulated.
12 And we beseech you. Here we have an admonition that is very necessary. For as the kingdom of God is lightly esteemed, or at least is not esteemed suitably to its dignity, there follows also from this, contempt of pious teachers. Now, the most of them, offended with this ingratitude, not so much because they see themselves despised, as because they infer from this, that honor is not rendered to their Lord, are rendered thereby more indifferent, and God also, on just grounds, inflicts vengeance upon the world, inasmuch as he deprives it of good ministers, 602 to whom it is ungrateful. Hence, it is not so much for the advantage of ministers as of the whole Church, that those who faithfully preside over it should be held in esteem. And it is for this reason that Paul is so careful to recommend them. To acknowledge means here to have regard or respect; but Paul intimates that the reason why less honor is shewn to teachers themselves than is befitting, is because their labor is not ordinarily taken into consideration.
We must observe, however, with what titles of distinction he honors pastors. In the first place, he says that they labor. From this it follows, that all idle bellies are excluded from the number of pastors. Farther, he expresses the kind of labor when he adds, those that admonish, or instruct, you. It is to no purpose, therefore, that any, that do not discharge the office of an instructor, glory in the name of pastors. The Pope, it is true, readily admits such persons into his catalogue, but the Spirit of God expunges them from his. As, however, they are held in contempt in the world, as has been said, he honors them at the same time, with the distinction of presidency.
Paul would have such as devote themselves to teaching, and preside with no other end in view than that of serving the Church, be held in no ordinary esteem. For he says literally — let them be more than abundantly honored, and not without good ground, for we must observe the reason that he adds immediately afterwards — on account of their work. Now, this work is the edification of the Church, the everlasting salvation of souls, the restoration of the world, and, in fine, the kingdom of God and Christ. The excellence and dignity of this work are inestimable: hence those whom God makes ministers in connection with so great a matter, ought to be held by us in great esteem. We may, however, infer from Paul’s words, that judgment is committed to the Church, that it may distinguish true pastors. 603 For to no purpose were these marks pointed out, if he did not mean that they should be taken notice of by believers. And while he commands that honor be given to those that labor, and to those that by teaching 604 govern properly and faithfully, he assuredly does not bestow any honor upon those that are idle and wicked, nor does he mark them out as deserving of it.
Preside in the Lord. This seems to be added to denote spiritual government. For although kings and magistrates also preside by the appointment of God, yet as the Lord would have the government of the Church to be specially recognized as his, those that govern the Church in the name and by the commandment of Christ, are for this reason spoken of particularly as presiding in the Lord. We may, however, infer from this, how very remote those are from the rank of pastors and prelates who exercise a tyranny altogether opposed to Christ. Unquestionably, in order that any one may be ranked among lawful pastors, it is necessary that he should shew that he presides in the Lord, and has nothing apart from him. And what else is this, but that by pure doctrine he puts Christ in his own seat, that he may be the only Lord and Master?
13 With love. Others render it by love; for Paul says in love, which, according to the Hebrew idiom, is equivalent to by or with. I prefer, however, to explain it thus — as meaning that he exhorts them not merely to respect them, 605 but also love them. For as the doctrine of the gospel is lovely, so it is befitting that the ministers of it should be loved. It were, however, rather stiff to speak of having in esteem by love, while the connecting together of love with honor suits well.
Be at peace. While this passage has various readings, even among the Greeks, I approve rather of the rendering which has been given by the old translator, and is followed by Erasmus — Pacem habete cum eis, vel colite — (Have or cultivate peace with them.) 606 For Paul, in my opinion, had in view to oppose the artifices of Satan, who ceases not to use every endeavor to stir up either quarrels, or disagreements, or enmities, between people and pastor. Hence we see daily how pastors are hated by their Churches for some trivial reason, or for no reason whatever, because this desire for the cultivation of peace, which Paul recommends so strongly, is not exercised as it ought.
14 Admonish the unruly. It is a common doctrine — that the welfare of our brethren should be the object of our concern. This is done by teaching, admonishing, correcting, and arousing; but, as the dispositions of men are various, it is not without good reason that the Apostle commands that believers accommodate themselves to this variety. He commands, therefore, that the unruly 607 be admonished, that is, those who live dissolutely. The term admonition, also, is employed to mean sharp reproof, such as may bring them back into the right way, for they are deserving of greater severity, and they cannot be brought to repentance by any other remedy.
Towards the faint-hearted another system of conduct must be pursued, for they have need of consolation. The weak must also be assisted. By faint-hearted, however, he means those that are of a broken and afflicted spirit. He accordingly favors them, and the weak, in such a way as to desire that the unruly should be restrained with some degree of sternness. On the other hand, he commands that the unruly should be admonished sharply, in order that the weak may be treated with kindness and humanity, and that the faint-hearted may receive consolation. It is therefore to no purpose that those that are obstinate and intractable demand that they be soothingly caressed, inasmuch as remedies must be adapted to diseases.
He recommends, however, patience towards all, for severity must be tempered with some degree of lenity, even in dealing with the unruly. This patience, however, is, properly speaking, contrasted with a feeling of irksomeness, 608 for nothing are we more prone to than to feel wearied out when we set ourselves to cure the diseases of our brethren. The man who has once and again comforted a person who is faint-hearted, if he is called to do the same thing a third time, will feel I know not what vexation, nay, even indignation, that will not permit him to persevere in discharging his duty. Thus, if by admonishing or reproving, we do not immediately do the good that is to be desired, we lose all hope of future success. Paul had in view to bridle impatience of this nature, by recommending to us moderation towards all.
1 Thessalonians 5:15-22
15. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men
15. Videte, ne quis malum pro malo cuiquam reddat: sed semper benignitatem sectamini, et mutuam inter vos, et in omnes.
16. Rejoice evermore.
16. Semper gaudete.
17. Pray without ceasing.
17. Indesinenter orate.
18. In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
18. In omnibus gratias agite: haec enim Dei voluntas in Christo Iesu erga vos.
19. Quench not the Spirit.
19. Spiritum ne extinguatis.
20. Despise not prophesyings.
20. Prophetias ne contemnatis.
21. Prove all things: hold fast that which is good.
21. Omnia probate, quod bonum est tenete.
22 Abstain from all appearance of evil.
22. Ab omni specie mala abstinete.
15 See that no one render evil for evil. As it is difficult to observe this precept, in consequence of the strong bent of our nature to revenge, he on this account bids us take care to be on our guard. For the word see denotes anxious care. Now, although he simply forbids us to strive with each other in the way of inflicting injuries, there can, nevertheless, be no doubt that he meant to condemn, at the same time, every disposition to do injury. For if it is unlawful to render evil for evil, every disposition to injure is culpable. This doctrine is peculiar to Christians — not to retaliate injuries, but to endure them patiently. And lest the Thessalonians should think that revenge was prohibited only towards their brethren, he expressly declares that they are to do evil to no one. For particular excuses are wont to be brought forward in some cases. “What! why should it be unlawful for me to avenge myself on one that is so worthless, so wicked, and so cruel?” But as vengeance is forbidden us in every case, without exception, however wicked the man that has injured us may be, we must refrain from inflicting injury.
But always follow benignity. By this last clause he teaches that we must not merely refrain from inflicting vengeance, when any one has injured us, but must cultivate beneficence towards all. For although he means that it should in the first instance be exercised among believers mutually, he afterwards extends it to all, however undeserving of it, that we may make it our aim to overcome evil with good, as he himself teaches elsewhere. (Ro 12:21) The first step, therefore, in the exercise of patience, is, not to revenge injuries; the second is, to bestow favors even upon enemies.
16 Rejoice always. I refer this to moderation of spirit, when the mind keeps itself in calmness under adversity, and does not give indulgence to grief. I accordingly connect together these three things — to rejoice always, to pray without ceasing, and to give thanks to God in all things. For when he recommends constant praying, he points out the way of rejoicing perpetually, for by this means we ask from God alleviation in connection with all our distresses. In like manner, in Php 4:4, having said,
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice. Let your moderation be known to all. Be not anxious as to anything. The Lord is at hand.
He afterwards points out the means of this—
but in every prayer let your requests be made known to God, with giving of thanks.
In that passage, as we see, he presents as a source of joy a calm and composed mind, that is not unduly disturbed by injuries or adversities. But lest we should be borne down by grief, sorrow, anxiety, and fear, he bids us repose in the providence of God. And as doubts frequently obtrude themselves as to whether God cares for us, he also prescribes the remedy — that by prayer we disburden our anxieties, as it were, into his bosom, as David commands us to do in Ps 37:5 and Ps 55:22; and Peter also, after his example. (1Pe 5:7.) As, however, we are unduly precipitate in our desires, he imposes a check upon them — that, while we desire what we are in need of, we at the same time do not cease to give thanks.
He observes, here, almost the same order, though in fewer words. For, in the first place, he would have us hold God’s benefits in such esteem, that the recognition of them and meditation upon them shall overcome all sorrow. And, unquestionably, if we consider what Christ has conferred upon us, there will be no bitterness of grief so intense as may not be alleviated, and give way to spiritual joy. For if this joy does not reign in us, the kingdom of God is at the same time banished from us, or we from it. 609 And very ungrateful is that man to God, who does not set so high a value on the righteousness of Christ and the hope of eternal life, as to rejoice in the midst of sorrow. As, however, our minds are easily dispirited, until they give way to impatience, we must observe the remedy that he subjoins immediately afterwards. For on being cast down and laid low we are raised up again by prayers, because we lay upon God what burdened us. As, however, there are every day, nay, every moment, many things that may disturb our peace, and mar our joy, he for this reason bids us pray without ceasing. Now, as to this constancy in prayer, we have spoken of elsewhere. 610 Thanksgiving, as I have said, is added as a limitation. For many pray in such a manner, as at the same time to murmur against God, and fret themselves if he does not immediately gratify their wishes. But, on the contrary, it is befitting that our desires should be restrained in such a manner that, contented with what is given us, we always mingle thanksgiving with our desires. We may lawfully, it is true, ask, nay, sigh and lament, but it must be in such a way that the will of God is more acceptable to us than our own.
18 For this is the will of God — that is, according to Chrysostom’s opinion — that we give thanks. As for myself, I am of opinion that a more ample meaning is included under these terms — that God has such a disposition towards us in Christ, that even in our afflictions we have large occasion of thanksgiving. For what is fitter or more suitable for pacifying us, than when we learn that God embraces us in Christ so tenderly, that he turns to our advantage and welfare everything that befalls us? Let us, therefore, bear in mind, that this is a special remedy for correcting our impatience — to turn away our eyes from beholding present evils that torment us, and to direct our views to a consideration of a different nature — how God stands affected towards us in Christ.
19 Quench not the Spirit. This metaphor is derived from the power and nature of the Spirit; for as it is the proper office of the Spirit to illuminate the understandings of men, and as he is on this account called our light, it is with propriety that we are said to quench him, when we make void his grace. There are some that think that it is the same thing that is said in this clause and the succeeding one. Hence, according to them, to quench the Spirit is precisely the same as to despise prophesyings. As, however, the Spirit is quenched in various ways, I make a distinction between these two things—that of a general statement, and a particular. For although contempt of prophesying is a quenching of the Spirit, yet those also quench the Spirit who, instead of stirring up, as they ought, more and more, by daily progress, the sparks that God has kindled in them, do, by their negligence, make void the gifts of God. This admonition, therefore, as to not quenching the Spirit, has a wider extent of meaning than the one that follows as to not despising prophesyings. The meaning of the former is: “Be enlightened by the Spirit of God. See that you do not lose that light through your ingratitude.” This is an exceedingly useful admonition, for we see that those who have been once enlightened, (Heb 6:4) when they reject so precious a gift of God, or, shutting their eves, allow themselves to be hurried away after the vanity of the world, are struck with a dreadful blindness, so as to be an example to others. We must, therefore, be on our guard against indolence, by which the light of God is choked in us.
Those, however, who infer from this that it is in man’s option either to quench or to cherish the light that is presented to him, so that they detract from the efficacy of grace, and extol the powers of free will, reason on false grounds. For although God works efficaciously in his elect, and does not merely present the light to them, but causes them to see, opens the eyes of their heart, and keeps them open, yet as the flesh is always inclined to indolence, it has need of being stirred up by exhortations. But what God commands by Paul’s mouth, He himself accomplishes inwardly. In the mean time, it is our part to ask from the Lord, that he would furnish oil to the lamps which he has lighted up, that he may keep the wick pure, and may even increase it.
20 Despise not prophesyings. This sentence is appropriately added to the preceding one, for as the Spirit of God illuminates us chiefly by doctrine, those who give not teaching its proper place, do, so far as in them lies, quench the Spirit, for we must always consider in what manner or by what means God designs to communicate himself to us. Let every one, therefore, who is desirous to make progress under the direction of the Holy Spirit, allow himself to be taught by the ministry of prophets.
By the term prophecy, however, I do not understand the gift of foretelling the future, but as in 1Co 14:3, the science of interpreting Scripture, 611 so that a prophet is an interpreter of the will of God. For Paul, in the passage which I have quoted, assigns to prophets teaching for edification, exhortation, and consolation, and enumerates, as it were, these departments. Let, therefore, prophecy in this passage be understood as meaning — interpretation made suitable to present use. 612 Paul prohibits us from despising it, if we would not choose of our own accord to wander in darkness.
The statement, however, is a remarkable one, for the commendation of external preaching. It is the dream of fanatics, that those are children who continue to employ themselves in the reading of the Scripture, or the hearing of the word, as if no one were spiritual, unless he is a despiser of doctrine. They proudly, therefore, despise the ministry of man, nay, even Scripture itself, that they may attain the Spirit. Farther, whatever delusions Satan suggests to them, 613 they presumptuously set forth as secret revelations of the Spirit. Such are the Libertines, 614 and other furies of that stamp. And the more ignorant that any one is, he is puffed up and swollen out with so much the greater arrogance. Let us, however, learn from the example of Paul, to conjoin the Spirit with the voice of men, which is nothing else than his organ. 615
21 Prove all things. As rash men and deceiving spirits frequently pass off their trifles under the name of prophecy, prophecy might by this means be rendered suspicious or even odious, just as many in the present day feel almost disgusted with the very name of preaching, as there are so many foolish and ignorant persons that from the pulpit blab out their worthless contrivances, 616 while there are others, also, that are wicked and sacrilegious persons, who babble forth execrable blasphemies. 617 As, therefore, through the fault of such persons it might be, that prophecy was regarded with disdain, nay more, was scarcely allowed to hold a place, Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to prove all things, meaning, that although all do not speak precisely according to set rule, we must, nevertheless, form a judgment, before any doctrine is condemned or rejected.
As to this, there is a twofold error that is wont to be fallen into, for there are some who, from having either been deceived by a false pretext of the name of God, or from their knowing that many are commonly deceived in this way, reject every kind of doctrine indiscriminately, while there are others that by a foolish credulity embrace, without distinction, everything that is presented to them in the name of God. Both of these ways are faulty, for the former class, saturated with a presumptuous prejudice of that nature, close up the way against their making progress, while the other class rashly expose themselves to all winds of errors. (Eph 4:14.) Paul admonishes the Thessalonians to keep the middle path between these two extremes, while he prohibits them from condemning anything without first examining it; and, on the other hand, he admonishes them to exercise judgment, before receiving, what may be brought forward, as undoubted truth. And unquestionably, this respect, at least, ought to be shewn to the name of God — that we do not despise prophecy, which is declared to have proceeded from him. As, however, examination or discrimination ought to precede rejection, so it must, also, precede the reception of true and sound doctrine. For it does not become the pious to shew such lightness, as indiscriminately to lay hold of what is false equally with what is true. From this we infer, that they have the spirit of judgment conferred upon them by God, that they may discriminate, so as not to be imposed upon by the impostures of men. For if they were not endowed with discrimination, it were in vain that Paul said — Prove: hold fast that which is good. If, however, we feel that we are left destitute of the power of proving aright; it must be sought by us from the same Spirit, who speaks by his prophets. But the Lord declares in this place by the mouth of Paul, that the course of doctrine ought not, by any faults of mankind, or by any rashness, or ignorance, or, in fine, by any abuse, to be hindered from being always in a vigorous state in the Church. For as the abolition of prophecy is the ruin of the Church, let us allow heaven and earth to be commingled, rather than that prophecy should cease.
Paul, however, may seem here to give too great liberty in teaching, when he would have all things proved; for things must be heard by us, that they may be proved, and by this means a door would be opened to impostors for disseminating their falsehoods. I answer, that in this instance he does not by any means require that an audience should be given to false teachers, whose mouth he elsewhere teaches (Titus 1:11) must be stopped, and whom he so rigidly shuts out, and does not by any means set aside the arrangement, which he elsewhere recommends so highly (1Ti 3:2) in the election of teachers. As, however, so great diligence can never be exercised as that there should not sometimes be persons prophesying, who are not so well instructed as they ought to be, and that sometimes good and pious teachers fail to hit the mark, he requires such moderation on the part of believers, as, nevertheless, not to refuse to hear. For nothing is more dangerous, than that moroseness, by which every kind of doctrine is rendered disgusting to us, while we do not allow ourselves to prove what is right. 618
22 From every evil appearance. Some think that this is a universal statement, as though he commanded to abstain from all things that bear upon their front an appearance of evil. In that case the meaning would be, that it is not enough to have an internal testimony of conscience, unless regard be at the same time had to brethren, so as to provide against occasions of offense, by avoiding every thing that can have the appearance of evil.
Those who explain the word speciem after the manner of dialecticians as meaning the subdivision of a general term, fall into an exceedingly gross blunder. For he 619 has employed the term speciem as meaning what we commonly term appearance. It may also be rendered either—evil appearance, or appearance of evil. The meaning, however, is the same. I rather prefer Chrysostom and Ambrose, who connect this sentence with the foregoing one. At the same time, neither of them explains Paul’s meaning, and perhaps have not altogether hit upon what he intends. I shall state briefly my view of it.
In the first place, the phrase appearance of evil, or evil appearance, I understand to mean — when falsity of doctrine has not yet been discovered in such a manner, that it can on good grounds be rejected; but at the same time an unhappy suspicion is left upon the mind, and fears are entertained, lest there should be some poison lurking. He, accordingly, commands us to abstain from that kind of doctrine, which has an appearance of being evil, though it is not really so — not that he allows that it should be altogether rejected, but inasmuch as it ought not to be received, or to obtain belief. For why has he previously commanded that what is good should be held fast, while he now desires that we should abstain not simply from evil, but from all appearance of evil? It is for this reason, that, when truth has been brought to light by careful examination, it is assuredly becoming in that case to give credit to it. When, on the other hand, there is any fear of false doctrine, or when the mind is involved in doubt, it is proper in that case to retreat, or to suspend our step, as they say, lest we should receive anything with a doubtful and perplexed conscience. In short, he shews us in what way prophecy will be useful to us without any danger — in the event of our being attentive in proving all things, and our being free from lightness and haste.
1 Thessalonians 5:23-28
23. And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
23. Ipse autem Deus pacis sanctificet vos totos: et integer spiritus vester, et anima et corpus sine reprehensione in adventu Domini nostri Iesu Christi custodiatur:
24. Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it
24. Fidelis qui vos vocavit, qui et faciet.
25. Brethren, pray for us.
25. Fratres, orate pro nobis.
26. Greet all the brethren with an holy kiss.
26. Salutate fratres omnes in osculo sancto.
27. I charge you by the Lord that this epistle be read unto all the holy brethren.
27. Adiuro vos per Dominum, ut legatur epistola omnibus sanctis fratribus.
28. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. Amen.
28. Gratia Domini nostri Iesu Christi vobiscum. Amen.
The first epistle unto the Thessalonians was written from Athens.
Ad Thessalonicenses prima scripta fuit ex Athenis.
23 Now the God of peace himself. Having given various injunctions, he now proceeds to prayer. And unquestionably doctrine is disseminated in vain, 620 unless God implant it in our minds. From this we see how preposterously those act who measure the strength of men by the precepts of God. Paul, accordingly, knowing that all doctrine is useless until God engraves it, as it were, with his own finger upon our hearts, beseeches God that he would sanctify the Thessalonians. Why he calls him here the God of peace, I do not altogether apprehend, unless you choose to refer it to what goes before, where he makes mention of brotherly agreement, and patience, and equanimity. 621
We know, however, that under the term sanctification is included the entire renovation of the man. The Thessalonians, it is true, had been in part renewed, but Paul desires that God would perfect what is remaining. From this we infer, that we must, during our whole life, make progress in the pursuit of holiness. 622 But if it is the part of God to renew the whole man, there is nothing left for free will. For if it had been our part to co-operate with God, Paul would have spoken thus — “May God aid or promote your sanctification.” But when he says, sanctify you wholly, he makes him the sole Author of the entire work.
And your entire spirit. This is added by way of exposition, that we may know what the sanctification of the whole man is, when he is kept entire, or pure, and unpolluted, in spirit, soul, and body, until the day of Christ. As, however, so complete an entireness is never to be met with in this life, it is befitting that some progress be daily made in purity, and something be cleansed away from our pollutions, so long as we live in the world.
We must notice, however, this division of the constituent parts of a man; for in some instances a man is said to consist simply of body and soul, and in that case the term soul denotes the immortal spirit, which resides in the body as in a dwelling. As the soul, however, has two principal faculties — the understanding and the will — the Scripture is accustomed in some cases to mention these two things separately, when designing to express the power and nature of the soul; but in that case the term soul is employed to mean the seat of the affections, so that it is the part that is opposed to the spirit. Hence, when we find mention made here of the term spirit, let us understand it as denoting reason or intelligence, as on the other hand by the term soul, is meant the will and all the affections.
I am aware that many explain Paul’s words otherwise, for they are of opinion that by the term soul is meant vital motion, and by the spirit is meant that part of man which has been renewed; but in that case Paul’s prayer were absurd. Besides, it is in another way, as I have said, that the term is wont to be made use of in Scripture. When Isaiah says,
“My soul hath desired thee in the night,
my spirit hath thought of thee,” (Isa 26:9)
no one doubts that he speaks of his understanding and affection, and thus enumerates two departments of the soul. These two terms are conjoined in the Psalms in the same sense. This, also, corresponds better with Paul’s statement. For how is the whole man entire, except when his thoughts are pure and holy, when all his affections are right and properly regulated, when, in fine, the body itself lays out its endeavors and services only in good works? For the faculty of understanding is held by philosophers to be, as it were, a mistress: the affections occupy a middle place for commanding; the body renders obedience. We see now how well everything corresponds. For then is the man pure and entire, when he thinks nothing in his mind, desires nothing in his heart, does nothing with his body, except what is approved by God. As, however, Paul in this manner commits to God the keeping of the whole man, and all its parts, we must infer from this that we are exposed to innumerable dangers, unless we are protected by his guardianship.
24 Faithful is he that hath called you. As he has shewn by his prayer what care he exercised as to the welfare of the Thessalonians, so he now confirms them in an assurance of Divine grace. Observe, however, by what argument he promises them the never-failing aid of God — because he has called them; by which words he means, that when the Lord has once adopted us as his sons, we may expect that his grace will continue to be exercised towards us. For he does not promise to be a Father to us merely for one day, but adopts us with this understanding, that he is to cherish us ever afterwards. Hence our calling ought to be held by us as an evidence of everlasting grace, for he will not leave the work of his hands incomplete. (Ps 138:8) Paul, however, addresses believers, who had not been merely called by outward preaching, but had been effectually brought by Christ to the Father, that they might be of the number of his sons.
26 Salute all the brethren with an holy kiss. As to the kiss, it was a customary token of salutation, as has been stated elsewhere. 623 In these words, however, he declares his affection towards all the saints.
27 I adjure you by the Lord. It is not certain whether he feared that, as often happened, spiteful and envious persons would suppress the Epistle, or whether he wished to provide against another danger — lest by a mistaken prudence and caution on the part of some, it should be kept among a few. 624 For there will always be found some who say that it is of no advantage to publish generally things that otherwise they recognize as very excellent. At least, whatever artifice or pretext Satan may have at that time contrived, in order that the Epistle might not come to the knowledge of all, we may gather from Paul’s words with what earnestness and keenness he sets himself in opposition to it. For it is no light or frivolous thing to adjure by the name of God. We find, therefore, that the Spirit of God would have those things which he had set forth in this Epistle, through the ministry of Paul, to be published throughout the whole Church. Hence it appears, that those are more refractory than even devils themselves, who in the present day prohibit the people of God from reading the writings of Paul, inasmuch as they are no way moved by so strict an adjuration.
END OF THE COMMENTARY ON THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE THESSALONIANS.
“Quand il viendra en iugement;” — “When he will come to judgment.”
“De ce qu’ils en doyuent croire;” — “Of what they must believe.”
“Plenement et certainement;” — “Fully and certainly.”
“Leur denonce ruine et confusion;” — “Threatens them with ruin and confusion.”
“Ceste paresse tant dangereuse et mortelle;” — “This indolence so dangerous and deadly.”
“It is ‘day’ with them. It is not only ‘day’ round about them, (so it is wherever the gospel is afforded to men,) but God hath made it ‘day’ within.” —Howe’s Works, (Lond. 1822,) vol. 6, p. 294. — Ed.
“The refuse, as the word λοιποὶ emphatically signifies, or the reprobate and worst of men.... The word καθεύδωμεν, signifies a deeper or a more intense sleep. It is the word that is used in the Septuagint to signify the sleep of death.” (Da 12:2)—Howe’s Works, (Lond. 1822,) vol. 6, p. 290. — Ed
“Et yurognerie;” — “And drunkenness.”
“Pour le moins ne deuons—nous pas estre aussi vigilans que les gendarmes?” — “Should we not at least be as vigilant as soldiers are?”
“Si puissant et si fort;” — “So powerful and so strong.”
“D’autant que volontiers nous auons en horreur et craignons le iour du Seigneur;” — “Inasmuch as we naturally regard with horror, and view with dread the day of the Lord.”
“Du decret et ordonnance de Dieu;” — “From the decree and appointment of God.”
“Comme il est dit en l’Epistre aux Romans 8. b. 10;” — “As is stated in the Epistle to the Romans Ro 8:10.”
“Fideles ministres de la parolle;” — “Faithful ministers of the word.”
“Et les ministres fideles;” — “And faithful ministers.”
“Et admonestant;” — “And admonishing.”
“De porter honneur aux fideles ministres;” — “To do honor to faithful ministers.”
Wiclif (1380) renders as follows: “Haue ye pees with hem.”
“The whole phraseology of this verse is military... ᾿Ατάκτους — those who are out of their ranks, and are neither in a disposition nor situation to perform the work and duty of a soldier: those who will not do the work prescribed, and who will meddle with what is not commanded.” —Dr. A. Clarke.—Ed
“A l’ennuy qu’on conçoit aiseement en tels affaires;” — “To the irksomeness which one readily feels in such matters.”
“N’est point en nous, ou pour mieux dire, nous en sommes hors;” — “Is not in us, or as we may rather say, we are away from it.”
Our author probably refers here to what he has said on this subject when commenting on Ephesians 6:18. — Ed.
See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, p. 415, 436.
“Interpretation de l’Escriture applicquee proprement selon le temps, les personnes, et les choses presentes;” — “Interpretation of Scripture properly applied, according to time, persons, and things present.”
“Leur souffle aux aureilles;” — “Breathes into their ears.”
See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 2, p. 7, n. 3.
“L’organe et instrument d’celuy;” — “His organ and instrument.”
“Leurs speculations ridicules;” — “Their ridiculous speculations.”
“Horribles et execrables;” — “Horrible and execrable.”
“Tellement que nostre impatience ou chagrin nous empesche d’esprouuer qui est la vraye ou la fausse;” — “So that our impatience or chagrin keeps us from proving what is true or false.”
“S. Paul;” —”St. Paul.”
“Que proufitera-on de prescher la doctrine?” — “What profit will be derived from preaching doctrine?”
“Repos d’esprit;” — “Repose of mind.”
“En l’estude et exercice de sainctete;” — “In the study and exercise of holiness.”
See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 2, p. 78.
“Qu’aucuns par vne prudence indiscrete, la communicassent seulement a quelque petit nombre sans en faire les autres participans;” — “That some by an ill-advised prudence, would communicate it only to some small number without making others participate in it.”