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An Exposition Of the Epistles Of Saint Paul And Of The Catholic Epistles Volumes 1&2

Analysis

In this chapter, the Apostle adduces a variety of motives for consoling the Thessalonians, and confirming them in the faith—viz., the success of his preaching in the midst of persecutions—the nature of the doctrine preached (1–3)—the purity and disinterestedness of motive which actuated him (4–9)—and the sanctity of his life and conduct among them (10, 11). He praises them for the zeal with which they received the word of God, and the constancy with which they persevere therein (13). Finally, he expresses his great affection for them.

Paraphrase

1. But I need not refer to my advent amongst you to preach the gospel, and the success which attended it, as a motive to confirm you in the faith; you yourselves are aware that it was not without fruit.

2. You are aware of the difficult and trying circumstances under which we went to you. Although we suffered much persecution and were ignominiously scourged at Philippi, still we assumed courage, relying on the grace and power of the Lord, to announce to you the Gospel of God, with great personal fear and uneasiness.

3. (And not without cause have we trusted in the Lord, being fully conscious) that the doctrine we preached was not false or deceitful, neither did it announce obscene or impure things, nor was it in connexion with deceit or hypocrisy of any kind.

4. But like men whom God reputed worthy of the high commission of preaching the gospel, and, rendered fit for such a commission, we announced it with all sincerity and truth, not caring to please men but God, who searches the heart.

5. Nor did we at any time adopt the language of adulation, as you yourselves know. And God is the witness that we did not make the gospel the occasion of gratifying avarice.

6. Nor did we preach it with a view of gaining or seeking glory or esteem from you, or from any man living.

7. (And that we had no motives of avarice or ambition, is clear from the fact), that while we might, like the other Apostles of Christ, be a burthen to you for our support, or by exercising authority over you, we became like children amongst you, mild, unassuming, unconscious of our rights, like a mother nursing her own children, accommodating ourselves, to your temper and habits.

8. Thus having feelings of the liveliest affection towards you (as the mother has towards her offspring), we eagerly longed to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our very souls, if necessary, from no other motive except that of the purest love and affection for you.

9. (And how far we accommodated ourselves, like a nurse, to your weakness, you yourselves know). For you remember how we laboured and toiled, working day and night to gain sustenance, while at the same time we preached the gospel of God to you; and this labour and toil we underwent to gain a livelihood, lest we should in any way be a burthen to you.

10. I call both you and God to bear testimony to the sanctity towards God, the justice towards our neighbour, the irreprehensibility towards all, that marked our conduct amongst you.

11. You also know how we entreated each of you (with the feelings of a father towards his children) to persevere firmly in the faith.

12. How we consoled you in your difficulties, and earnestly besought you to lead lives worthy of the God who called you to his kingdom and his glory.

13. Therefore (owing to our success amongst you), we give God thanks without ceasing, that when you received from us the word of God which we preached to you, you received it not as the doctrine of men, but (what it really is) as the doctrine revealed by God, who, by the power of his grace, wrought in you the conviction of faith.

14. It was owing to the power which God worked in you, that you embraced all the tribulation which you had to endure in consequence; on account of which you are faithful imitators of the Christian Churches of Judea; for, you suffered from your fellow-countrymen the same persecution, they had to endure from their Jewish brethren.

15. Who killed the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and also persecuted us, Apostles; who, moreover, are hated by God, and opposed to all men whose salvation they wish to prevent.

16. While endeavouring to prevent us from announcing to the Gentiles the truths of faith wherein they may be saved, it comes to pass that they fill up the measure of their sins; for, the vengeance of God, which is to remain upon them for ever, is come upon them.

17. But we, brethren, separated from you, although only for a short time in sight and bodily absence, not, however, in affection, (for we cherish you in our hearts), have used our utmost endeavours in consequence of the great wish we have for you, to see you as soon as possible.

18. In consequence of this desire which we have of seeing you, we wished to come to you, and I, Paul, in particular, desired this; but Satan (our chief adversary) prevented me.

19. (And what wonder that we should eagerly long to see you?) For are not you, owing to your firmness in the faith, the subject and occasion of our hope, of our joy, and of our crown of glory, before our Lord Jesus Christ, when, at his second coming, he shall judge the world?

20. In truth, you are our glory and our crown.

Commentary

1. “In vain.” By which some understand—without tribulation; because, it is of his tribulation that the Apostle is treating in the entire chapter. However, the interpretation in the Paraphrase is the more probable: this being the usual signification of the word in the writings of St. Paul (1. Cor., 15), and in this Epistle (3:5). Moreover, in the preceding chapter, with which this verse is clearly to be connected, the Apostle is treating of his success in the preaching of the gospel among them.

2. After referring to the fruit which God accorded to his labours, he refers to the trying circumstances under which he went to them “in much carefulness.” The Greek is εν πολλῷ ἀγῶνι, “in much struggle,” referring to the struggle he had with his enemies, or to his uneasiness of mind.

3. According to the Vulgate reading, the Apostle refers to the subject matter of his preaching as opposed to that preached by the philosophers: his doctrine was not false, calculated to lead himself or others into error, nor was it “in deceit,” i.e., a doctrine deluding others; such was the maxim of the philosophers: that the people should be led astray in matters of religion. According to the Greek reading, ἐκ πλάνης, from error, &c., the Apostle refers in this verse rather to the motives of his preaching. He did not preach with a view of leading them into error, nor with the impure motive of self-interest, nor of circumventing or deceiving them.

4. The Apostle reached the Gospel in a manner becoming men whom God judged and rendered fit for so high a commission—in its pure, unadulterated truthfulness; wishing to please God only, the Searcher of hearts.

5. He was wholly exempt from the vices of all those teachers, who, by adulation, please men and wish to make the gospel the means of accumulating wealth and promoting their own glory. The nature, then, of the doctrine preached, or rather the disinterested purity of his motives in preaching it, under such circumstances (2, 3), together with the total absence of any impure or sinister motive on his part (4, 5, 6), should be a strong argument of its truth, and a strong motive to induce them to persevere.

7. “Burdensome to you,” refers to his right to receive maintenance from them; or, according to others, to the right of exercising authority over them. This latter interpretation is followed by the Greeks; the former is, however, the more probable. “Little ones,” in the present Greek version is νήπιοι, mild, gentle—but the meaning is still the same. “As if a nurse should cherish her children”—in the Greek, τὰ ἐαυτῆς her own children. The Apostle opposes humility to the pride of false teachers. He employs a twofold metaphor, to express the feelings displayed by him in preaching the gospel to the Thessalonians. Some Expositors, in order to avoid a confusion of metaphor, connect the latter part of this with the following verse.

8. “So desirous of you;” i.e., as desirous of you, as the nurse is of her children. He opposes charity to cupidity. What a lively picture is given here of the true Pastor of souls—at one time, clothing himself, through a spirit of accommodation to the weakness of his people, with the simplicity, humility, and meekness of children, apparently claiming no authority; at another, displaying the lively affection of a tender mother, dispensing the milk of holy doctrine in such a way, as to be prepared to give his life, and that from no motive of lucre, but purely from love and charity, co-operating with Christ in the salvation of those souls for whom our blessed Lord gave up his life;

9. The Apostle toiled at manual labour, for the purpose of procuring the necessaries of life, at the very time he was announcing the gospel to them.

10. “Holily,” may also mean, in doctrine and life; “justly,” without injury of exaction; “without blame,” causing no scandal to the weak.

11, 12. The Vulgate reading of these two verses is rather obscure. “As you know,” i.e., you also know, how we entreated each of you (as a father entreats his children), and comforted each of you, &c. The word “you” is redundant after “comforting,” in the construction adopted in the Paraphrase; a construction which, however, accords best with the Greek. “Who hath called you unto his kingdom;” i.e., his Church, where they received the Holy Ghost as a pledge of glory to come, the hopes of which should encourage them under afflictions and persecution. In the Greek version, “testified” is read in a participial form, testifying.

13. “Therefore,” all this being premised regarding his advent and success amongst them, and the purity of motive with which he preached, the Apostle now returns thanks to God for his success, and shows that his advent was not “in vain;” as he asserted (verse 1). “When you had received of us the word of the hearing of God,” i.e., the word of God which you heard from our preaching it to you. “You received it not as the word of men;” because, under the circumstances of persecution with which it was attended, they would certainly have rejected it, had they regarded it as emanating from man; but they received it as “the word of God,” who, by his grace, worked in them and made them receive his word with a firm faith. “Who worketh,” may, in the Greek construction, ὅς καὶ ενεργειται, be also rendered which works, or is worked in you, &c. There is, however, but little difference of signification between it and our Vulgate.

14. Had they not received it as the word of God, and had they not been strengthened by him, they would never have submitted to so many persecutions on account of it.

15. The unbelieving Jews were the principal agents in exciting disturbances against the Apostle. Hence, the unsparing severity dealt out against them in this verse. He also wishes to impress the Thessalonians with the belief, that their patient endurance of persecutions will make them sharers in the sufferings of the Lord, of the Prophets, and Apostles. “And the Prophets.” In Greek, and their own Prophets.

16. “To fill up their sins always;” as if he said, from this it follows as a consequence, that they fill up the measure of their sins. Hence, there is a certain measure of guilt, after which God will inflict summary vengeance on both individuals and entire nations. This passage also confirms the opinion of these Divines, who maintain, that there is a certain number of sins, after the commission of which God will not pardon the sinner. This, of course, will not arise from a defect of power in the Church to absolve him, but from the want of proper dispositions on his part, in consequence of the withholding of God’s grace from him, in such circumstances. “For the wrath of God is come upon them to the end.” The Greek reading is, for the wrath of God has surprised them, or, come beforehand on them. The perfect is put for the future tense, on account of the certainty of the event. The words may refer to the temporal destruction of Jerusalem under Titus, which was an image of the eternal destruction of the wicked;—“Unto the end;”—or, to the punishment of individual Jews in the hardness and impenitence of their hearts; for, with respect to the Jews as a body, it is the common opinion that at the end of the world they will be converted. “And so all Israel should be saved, as it is written: There shall come out of Sion, he that shall deliver, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob.”—(Romans, 11:26).

17. “Being taken away from you.” The Greek word, ἀπορφανισθέντες, means, left in a state of bereavement.

18. The devil prevented the accomplishment of the Apostle’s wishes, by exciting the wicked passions of men against him.

20. Hence, looking to SS. Scripture, there is nothing objectionable in our invoking the Blessed Mother of God, as “our life, our sweetness, and our hope;” since, St. Paul here calls his own spiritual children, “his hope.” Of course, if no such expression ever occurred in SS. Scripture, the Catholic prayer to the Blessed Virgin could be explained in the only true sense attached to it—viz., the sense of intercession for us, since God has been pleased to dispense all his graces through her hands: “omnia voluit nos habere per Mariam,” says St. Bernard; and the same is the common opinion of Divines after him. Hence, she is termed “omnipotent” by some of the Fathers, without the slightest outrage to Christian faith or piety; for, she is truly omnipotent, in the sense in which they employ the word, inasmuch as she can obtain from her Divine Son, who by nature is Omnipotent, all our requests. Happy he, who by the exhibition of a tender and filial devotion to our sweet Mother during life, shall have secured the patronage, at the hour of death, of this powerful Virgin, in whom no one ever confided and was confounded! Jesus, alone, being God, is omnipotent by Nature—it would be the rankest blasphemy to predicate this of any mere creature, however exalted—Mary is omnipotent by grace, in the sense already explained








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