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of being moved by the specious reasonings of the philosophers addressed to their prejudices, was great, and would have required the presence of the apostle himself to fortify them. But as the unbelieving Jews and Gentiles were greatly enraged against him, he could not return, but employed Timothy to perform that office; which he was well qualified to do, by his extraordinary talents and endowments. Timothy, therefore, returning to Thessalonica, gave the brethren the necessary exhortations and encouragements, which no doubt proved of great use to many.
During this second visit to the Thessalonians, Timothy had an opportunity of hearing from the philosophers themselves, the objections which they urged against Paul's character and behaviour, together with the arguments whereby they endeavoured to disprove the gospel. So that when he came to the apostle at Corinth, we may suppose he explained the whole to him with greater precision than formerly; and added, that although the sophists had endeavoured to shake the faith of the Thessalonians, they had stood firm hitherto, and had borne the persecution with admirable patience, 1 Thess. iii. 6. Nevertheless, being young converts, they were but ill fitted to maintain their cause against such powerful opponents, either in the way of arguing or of suffering, unless they were properly assisted. Indeed the apostle himself, when he fled from Thessalonica, was so sensible of this, that during his abode in Beroa, he had endeavoured once and again to return to Thessalonica, that he might strengthen his converts, by defending the gospel against the cavils of the men of learning; but Satan hindered him, 1 Thess. ii. 18. Wherefore, to supply to the Thessalonian brethren the want of his presence and counsels, he wrote them from Corinth this his first epistle, in which he furnished them with a formal proof of the divine original of the gospel, intermixed with answers to the objections, which we suppose the learned Greeks, who made the gospel a subject of disputation, raised against its evidences; together with a vindication of his own conduct, in fleeing from Thessalonica, when the Jews and the idolatrous multitude assaulted the house of Jason, in which he and his assistants lodged.
This account of the apostle's design in writing his first epistle to the Thessalonians, and of the subjects handled in it, I acknowledge is not explicitly declared in the epistle itself. But in the essay on St. Paul's manner of writing, I have shewed
that it is not by any formal declaration, but by the nature of the things written, that he commonly discovers the purpose for which he wrote. This is the case, particularly, in the first epis tle to the Thessalonians, where the nature of the things written clearly leads us to consider it as a proof of the divine original of the gospel, and a refutation of the objections raised against the gospel and its preachers: for the whole sentiments evidently point toward these objects; and viewed in that light, the language in which they are clothed exhibits a clear unambi, guous meaning, as shall be shewed in the illustrations prefixed to the several chapters. Not to mention, that, on supposition the apostle had these objects in view when he wrote this epistle, many of his expressions acquire a beauty, and energy, which entirely disappear when we lose sight of the apostle's design. To these things add, that the long apology which the apostle makes for his sudden flight from Thessalonica, together with the many warm expressions of his affection to the Thessalonians, which take up a considerable part of the second, and the whole of the third chapters, appear with the greatest propriety, considered as a vindication of the apostle's conduct as a mis. sionary from God; whereas, in any other light, these particulars appear to be introduced for no purpose. Since, therefore, the things written in the first epistle to the Thessalonians, form a regular and connected proof of the divine original of the gospel, there can be no doubt of the apostle's intending that proof, both for the confirmation of the faith of the Thessalonians, and for enabling them to convince unbelievers.
The subjects handled in this epistle, being matters in which all the brethren throughout the province of Macedonia were equally concerned with the Thessalonians, the apostle ordered it to be read to all the holy brethren; chap. v. 27, that is, it was to be read publicly, not only in the church of the Thessalonians, but to the brethren in Philippi and Beroa, and in all the other cities in the province of Macedonia, where churches were planted. Nay, it was intended to be shewed to the unbelieving inhabitants of that province, whose curiosity might lead them to inquire into the causes of the rapid progress of the gospel, or whose malice might incline them to impugn the Christian faith; at least, the things written in this epistle are evidently answers, which the Thessalonians were to give to such as required a reason of the faith that was in them.
Before this section is finished, it may be proper to remark, that the proof of the divine original of the gospel, contained in the first epistle to the Thessalonians, being written by one of the greatest inspired preachers of the gospel, and being designed for the consideration of persons celebrated for their genius and learning, it will ever merit the attention of the friends of the Christian revelation, and should not be overlooked by its enemies; because it may be supposed to exhibit the principal arguments on which the Christian preachers themselves built their pretensions as missionaries from God, and by which they so effectually destroyed the prevailing idolatry, and turned great numbers of the heathens every where, to the faith and worship of the true God.
Of the Subjects treated in the First Epistle to the Thessalonians; and of the Persons mentioned in the Inscription, as the Writers of this Epistle.
In the opinion of the best critics and chronologers, this being one of the first inspired writings which the Apostle Paul addressed to the Greeks, whose philosophical genius led them to examine matters of science and opinion with the greatest accuracy, he very properly chose for the subject of it, the proofs by which the gospel is shewed to be a revelation from God. The reason is, by furnishing a clear and concise view of the evidences of the gospel, he not only confirmed the Thessalonians themselves in the faith thereof, as a revelation from God, but enabled them to persuade others also of its divine original; or, at least, he taught them how to confute their adversaries, who, by misrepresentations and false reasonings, endeavoured to overthrow the gospel.
The arguments proposed in this epistle, for proving the divine original of the Christian revelation, are the four following. 1. That many and great miracles were wrought by the preachers of the gospel, professedly for the purpose of demonstrating, that they were commissioned by God to preach it to the world.-2. That the apostles and their assistants, by preaching the gospel, brought upon themselves, every where, all manner of present evils, without obtaining the least worldly advantage, either in possession or in prospect: That in preaching this new doctrine, they did not, in any respect, accommodate it to the prevailing inclinations of their hearers, nor encourage them in their
vicious practices: That they used none of the base arts peculiar to impostors, for gaining belief; but that their manner of preaching and acting, was, in all respects, suitable to the character of missionaries from God; so that on account of their personal character, they were entitled to the highest credit as teachers.
-3. That the first preachers of the gospel delivered to their disciples, from the very beginning, precepts of the greatest strictness and holiness: so that by the sanctity of its precepts, the gospel is shewed to be a scheme of religion every way worthy of the true God, and highly beneficial to mankind.-4. That Jesus, the author of our religion, was declared to be the Son of God, and the Judge of the world, by his resurrection from the dead and that by the same miracle, his own promise, and the predictions of his apostles concerning his return from heaven, to reward the righteous and punish the wicked, especially them who obey not his gospel, are rendered absolutely certain.
In setting forth the proofs of the divine original of the gospel, the Apostle with great propriety insisted, in a particular man-. ner, on the character, behaviour, and views of the christian preachers: because an argument of that kind could not fail to have great weight with the Greeks, as it made them sensible that the ministers of the gospel were the very reverse of their philosophers, the only teachers to whom that intelligent and inquisitive people had hitherto listened. Wherefore we will not be mistaken, if we suppose, that in describing the character, manners, and views of the Christian teachers, the writers of this epistle tacitly contrasted themselves, not only with impostors in general, but with the Greek philosophers in particular, who, though in high estimation with the people, were many of them unprincipled impostors, and excessively debauched in their morals.
To the arguments offered in this epistle, in proof of the gospel revelation, little can be added, except what arises from the fulfilment of the prophecies of the Old Testament; and therefore, the very same arguments have often, since the apostle's days, been urged by those who have undertaken the defence of the Christian religion. But it is proper to remark, that in the mouth of Paul and his assistants, these arguments have double weight; for, it is not the miracles, the character, and the precepts of other persons, which they have appealed to, but their own. And, as in this epistle they have affirmed, in the most direct terms, that the Thessalonians were eye-witnesses of the miracles which they wrought for the confirmation of the gospel,
and that they knew the sanctity both of their manners and of their precepts, no doubt can be entertained of these things. For it is not to be supposed, that three men of common understanding, would have joined in writing after this manner, to such numerous societies as the Thessalonian church, and the other churches, in which they ordered this epistle to be read, unless the things which they affirm were done in their presence, had really been true. And if they are true, there can be no doubt, that Paul and his assistants were commissioned of God; and that the gospel which they preached is of divine original, and of universal obligation.
The proofs of the divine original of the gospel above mentioned, being all founded on matters of fact, it is evident that their credibility does not depend on the authority, or office, or station, of the persons who have asserted them; but on their capacity and integrity, and on the number, the capacity, and the integrity of the witnesses, in whose presence they are said to have happened, and who are appealed to for the truth of them; together with the conviction which these facts wrought in the minds of the witnesses, and the alteration which the belief of them produced in their after-conduct. I call the reader's attention to this observation; because it shews the reason why Paul and his assistants, who have asserted these facts, and who have appealed to the Thessalonians as knowing the truth of them, have not, in the inscription of their letter, assumed to themselves the titles, either of Apostles or Evangelists, but have designed themselves simply by their names; Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy.
Farther, though it was proper that Paul, who was the chief preacher and worker of miracles, should be the writer of this letter to the Thessalonians, yet as Silvanus and Timothy had assisted him in preaching, and had themselves wrought miracles among the Thessalonians, and were teachers of the same virtuous disinterested character with himself, and were equally faithful in preaching the gospel, they joined him in it, to give the greater weight to the appeals he was about to make to the Thessalonians. For every thing said in this letter is said of them all, and is equally true of them all; as the Thessalonians well knew. However, the arguments taken from their miracles, character, and precepts, will not have their full weight, unless we recollect, that the things affirmed of Paul, and Silvanus, and Timothy, are true of all the apostles and inspired prea