When that restraining influence was removed, the man of sin would be revealed, accompanied with powers and signs and wonders of falsehood, and would succeed in deceiving those who were destitute of the love of the truth. Then would the Lord Jesus Christ come and destroy him by the breath of his mouth and the appearance of his presence. The apostle thanks God that the Thessalonians, on the contrary, were chosen to salvation and to a participation of the glory of the Lord; he exhorts them to stand fast in the instructions which he had delivered them; and he concludes with a prayer for their consolation and confirmation.
This chapter is involved in difficulties; it is the obscurest passage in the writings of Paul; it is pre-eminently one of those things in his Epistles which are hard to be understood ( 2 Peter 3:16 ). But it is to be observed that the description of the man of sin, though obscure to us, was not necessarily obscure to the Thessalonians. They had information on this point which we do not possess. The apostle, when at Thessalonica, had instructed them in this subject, and to these instructions he refers in the description which he here gives ( 2 Thessalonians 2:5 , 2 Thessalonians 2:6 ). Nor was the information which he imparted to them indefinite and general, but definite and precise. He had described the nature of the apostasy, the characteristics of the man of sin, and the influences which retarded his manifestation ( 2 Thessalonians 2:3 , 2 Thessalonians 2:4 ); and if these points were known to us, as they were to the Thessalonians, most of the obscurity which rests on this prediction would disappear. At present we give the exposition of the passage, reserving the discussion of the various theories concerning its interpretation to an excursus at the end of the chapter.
Let no man deceive you by any means; in any way, not only in any of the foregoing methods, "by spirit, or word, or letter," but in any way whatever. For ( that day shall not come ) . The bracketed words are not in the original, but are correctly supplied for the completion of the sense. Except there come a falling away; or, the apostasy; namely, that apostasy about which the apostle, when in Thessalonica, had instructed his readers. The falling away here alluded to is evidently religious, not political. Hence it cannot be the revolt of the Jews from the Romans, or any of those revolts and disturbances which then occurred in the political world. Nor must we conceive that the man of sin himself is here meant; for this apostasy precedes his coming—prepares the way for his advent; it is not the result, but the cause, of his appearance. The word, then, is to be taken generally to denote that remarkable "falling away" from Christianity concerning which Paul had instructed the Thessalonians. First ; namely, before the coming of the day of the Lord. And that man of sin; in whom sin is, as it were, personified, as righteousness is in Christ. Be revealed. The apostle considers the man of sin as the counterpart of Christ; as Christ was revealed, so shall the man of sin be revealed. The son of perdition; whose sin necessarily conducts to perdition; not here the perdition of his followers, but his own perdition. The same name which was applied by our Lord to Judas Iscariot ( John 17:12 ).
The apostle's main design in this Epistle is to correct a most disquieting error that had arisen upon this point.
I. THE PANIC IN THE THESSALONIAN CHURCH .
1 . It was concerning the date of the second coming of Christ. "Touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together unto him." The facts of this august event had been prophetically described in the First Epistle.
2 . The misapprehension caused a sort of panic. "That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled"—like a ship tossed upon a stormy sea. It was this deep agitation of mind, this consternation and surprise, which led to the unsettled spirit that manifested itself in the Thessalonian Church. Errors in the region of dispensational truth often have this tendency.
3 . The panic was due to one or other of three sources. "Neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us."
II. THE GROUND OF THE PANIC . "As that the day of the Lord is now present." This is the correct translation; not "it is at hand."
1 . It could inspire no terror for the Thessalonians to know that the day was at hand, for this had always been the apostle's teaching, as well as that of all Scripture ( Matthew 24:1-51 .; Romans 13:12 ; Philippians 4:5 ; Hebrews 10:25 , Hebrews 10:37 ; James 5:8 ; 1 Peter 4:7 ). They had been already familiar with the doctrine, which ought rather to have filled their hearts with transcendent gladness.
2 . Their disquietude and distress arose from the belief that the Lord had already come without their sharing in the glory of his kingdom. Their relatives were still lying in their graves without any sign of resurrection, and they themselves saw no sign of that transformation of body in themselves that was to be the prelude to their meeting the Lord in the air. The apostle tells them distinctly that the day has not come, and that the signs of its approach had not yet been exhibited.—T.C.
2 Thessalonians 2:3-8 . — The rise of the apostasy and the revelation of the man of sin must precede the second advent.
This fact would assure them that a period of time of at least indefinite extent would intervene before the day of the Lord. "Let no man deceive you by any means."
I. THE COMING OF THE APOSTASY . "Because the day will not set in unless there come the apostasy first."
1 . The apostasy is so described because it was already familiar to their minds through his oral teaching . "Remember ye not, that, when I was with you, I was telling you of these things?"
2 . It points to a signal defection from the Christian faith. We imagine that the primitive Churches were signally free from error or fault of any sort. The apostle himself notes the signs of beginning apostasy even in his own day.
II. THE REVELATION OF THE MAN OF SIN . "And that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition; who opposeth and exalteth himself above every one called God, or an object of worship." His characteristics are here distinctly described.
1 . He does not represent a system of error, like Romanism, or the papal hierarchy, or a succession of Popes, but a single person. The man of sin has not yet appeared. Yet Romanism, or the papacy, comprehends much that is involved in the idea of this terrible person, who, however, goes beyond it in the appalling extent of his wickedness. The passage is not symbolic, but literal. It is a literal person who is described.
2 . He is "the son of perdition."
3 . His boundless and blasphemous assumptions.
(a) The description does not apply to the pope or the papacy:
( α ) Because the pope, though the head of a system of idolatry, does not oppose God or exalt himself above him, but rather owns himself "a servant of servants of the most high God," and blesses the people, not in his own name, but in the Name of the Triune God.
( β ) Because, instead of exalting himself above God or objects of worship, he multiplies the objects of worship by the canonization of new saints, and submits, like the humblest of his followers, to the worship of the very saints he has made.
( γ ) Because the pope, though guilty of arrogating almost Divine powers to himself, does not supersede God so as to make himself God. The man of sin "sitteth in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God." Though votaries of the papacy have often given Divine titles to the popes, the Popes have never assumed to be God, but only vicars of Jesus Christ on earth. They have claimed to be viceroys of God. The temple of God cannot be the Vatican; nor the Christian Church, which is an ideal building; nor can Rome be regarded as the centre of the Christian Church.
( δ ) Because this prophetic sketch contains no allusion to strictly papal peculiarities, such as idolatry, either as to the Virgin Mary, saints, angels, or relics, the invention of purgatory, priestly absolution, bloody fanaticism, debased casuistry, lordship over the world of spirits.
(b) The description applies to the man of sin—the lawless one—for whom the Papacy prepares the way by a long course of apostasy from the truth.
( α ) This terrible person is to oppose God and all worship of every sort, and may therefore be regarded as an impersonation of infidel wickedness.
( β ) He is to sit down in the vacated "temple of God" and claim all the attributes of divinity. He sits down in God's place—for the temple is God's dwelling—in some actual temple, and appropriates it to his own use. Wherever the scene of this marvellous usurpation may be, it signifies the obliteration of all Christian interests and the triumph of atheistic malignity. When the Lord comes, "shall he find faith in the earth?" We see how Positivism in our own day has forsaken the worship of a personal God and betaken itself to the worship of concrete humanity. The man of sin will use the papacy as Anguste Comte travestied it in constructing forms of Positivist devotion, by turning it into some darker shape and. making it the tremendous instrument of the world's final ruin.
III. THE CHECK TO THE FULL DEVELOPMENT OF THE MAN OF SIN . "And now what restraineth ye know, in order that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of iniquity is already working only till he who now restraineth be taken out of the way." These words imply:
1 . That the apostasy was already in being; for "the mystery of lawlessness is already working." The two, if not identical, are closely connected together.
2 . The words imply that the working of the apostasy was still undefined and as yet unguessed at. It was still "a mystery," to be revealed in due time. Nothing is more remarkable than the gradual growth of error in the patristic age. False opinions held by pious Fathers in one age were held by errorists in the next age to the exclusion o! the truth.
3 . The words imply that, as the apostasy would last through ages, the check would likewise exercise a continuous effect. The common opinion is that the Roman empire was the restraining power upon the development of the man of sin. It was certainly such upon the course of the apostasy, which was to prepare the way for the man of sin. It held the Papacy in check till it was itself swept away by barbarian violence. Because it has passed away, it does not follow that the man of sin must have been revealed at once; for other checks have been supplied, and are being still continuously supplied, in the polity of nations and in the face of Divine truth, to restrain the last terrible manifestation of his power.
IV. THE DOOM OF THE MAN OF SIN . "Whom the Lord Jesus shall consume with the breath of his mouth, and shall destroy with the appearance of his coming."
1 . This does not refer to the Word and Spirit of Christ working in the minds of men for the destruction of antichristian error and antitheistic wickedness, but to the actual personal advent of Jesus Christ.
2 . The language implies the suddenness and the completeness of the overthrow of the man of sin, who thereby becomes "the son of perdition."
3 . The picture presented may be identical with the Got and Magog conspiracy which is to follow the millennium. ( Revelation 20:7 , Revelation 20:8 .) The Lord puts the question, "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith in the earth?" ( Luke 18:8 ). Thus the apostle assures the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord cannot have come, because all the events here pictured must happen before that great and terrible day.—T.C.
2 Thessalonians 2:9-12 . — The methods of the man of sin and the retribution that overtakes his victims.
The apostle, after telling the doom of the man of sin by anticipation, goes back upon his description so as to bring out the contrast between the coming of Christ and the coming of his arch-enemy.
I. THE METHODS OF THE MAN OF SIN . "Whose coming is after the working of Satan in all powers and signs and prodigies of lying."
1 . The source of all this wonder working activity—Satan. There is more than human depravity at work in this tremendous revelation of evil power. As Satan is a liar and the father of lies, he will stamp falsehood upon the whole system, which he will elaborate with superhuman craft for the misguidance of men.
2 . The character of this activity. It is external and internal.
(b) They were not real miracles, as if they had been done by Divine power, but jugglers' tricks or such like startling wonders as might delude "the perishing" into the belief that they were done by Divine power. The signs were to be as false as their author.
(c) Their design was to attest the truth of the doctrine of the man of sin.
3 . The effects of this wonder working activity. They are confined "to those that are perishing." It is not possible "to deceive the elect" ( Mark 13:22 ). Those who are blinded to the glory of the gospel are in the way of easy deception ( 2 Corinthians 4:3 ). It is those on the way to perdition who are so easily deceived.
II. THE RETRIBUTION THAT OVERTAKES THE VICTIMS OF THE MAN OF SIX . "Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." The causes of the success of the man of sin are first described on the side of man and then on the side of God. The whole case is one of just retribution.
1 . The sin of the perishing.
2 . The Divine retribution for the sin of the perishing. "And for this cause God is sending them an inworking error, that they should believe the lie" of the man of sin. They rejected the truth of God; God will, as a judicial, punitive infliction, send them blindness so that the error of the man of sin will be received as truth. "A terrible combination when both God and Satan are agreed to deceive a man!" There is a double punishment here.
(a) That error is not an innocent thing. It has practical issues of the most momentous character.
(b) That it is a fearful perversion of the human soul to take pleasure in what God hates.
(c) That God allows the sin and madness of men to develop themselves to their fullest extent.
(d) That God in this way will be finally justified in their judgment; he "will be justified in his speaking, and shall be clear in his judging" ( Psalms 51:4 ).—T.C.
I. THE DIVINE ELECTION . "God hath from the beginning chosen you."
1 . There is an "election according to grace" ( Romans 11:5 ). It is not to be confounded with the calling, which is an effect of it. "Whom he predestinated, them he also called" ( Romans 8:30 ). Our salvation is always traced to "his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began."
2 . The date of the election. "From the beginning." It is "from the foundation of the world" ( Ephesians 1:4 ), and therefore does not rest upon the personal claims of individuals.
3 . The means of the election. "In sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." The election is to the means as well as the end; it cannot take effect without the means. There is an objective as well as a subjective side in the sphere of the election.
(a) It implies a spiritual change of nature. The Spirit applies the salvation, and regeneration is his first work.
(b) Sanctification is the evidence as well as the fruit of election.
(a) As the Spirit is the agent, the truth is the instrument of salvation.
(b) The truth must be believed in order to salvation. As men are chosen to be saints, they are chosen also to be believers.
4 . The end of the election. "God hath chosen you to salvation."
(a) This is salvation from sin and sorrow, death and hell.
(b) It is "the end of our faith" ( 1 Peter 1:9 ).
II. THE DIVINE CALLING . "Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." The election issues in the call.
1 . The Author of the call. God. "There is one Lawgiver who is able to save and to destroy." He has the right to call and the power to call. Nothing but Divine power can save the soul.
2 . The means of the call. "Our gospel." The ministry of the Word was the great instrument in the Spirit's hand of their conversion.
3 . The end of the call.
2 Thessalonians 2:15 . — Exhortation to a steadfast maintenance of apostolic traditions.
"Therefore stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or our Epistle."
I. THE GROUND OF THIS EXHORTATION . It was their election and calling. There is a perfect consistency between the Divine election and the obligations of Christian duty.
II. THE NECESSITY OF CHRISTIAN STABILITY . It was specially needful at Thessalonica, in the midst of the agitations and shakings and restlessness that prevailed on the subject of the second advent. Believers were not "to be carried about by every wind of doctrine," lest "being led away with the error of the wicked, they should fall from their own steadfastness." They were to "hold fast the beginning of their confidence," and not "be moved away from the hope of the gospel."
1 . There is safety in stability .
2 . There is comfort in it.
3 . It gives glory to God .
4 . It gives strength and encouragement to the weak and vacillating .
III. THE MANIFESTATION OF THIS STABILITY . "Hold fast the traditions."
1 . They were of two kinds, oral and written. "Whether by word, or our Epistle."
2 . The traditions in question afford no warrant for the Roman, Catholic doctrine of traditions handed down through ages. Because:
The comprehensive prayer for blessing with which he concludes is strictly after the apostle's manner.
I. THE AUTHORS OF THE BLESSINGS PRAYED FOR . "Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father." The order of mention is unusual, though the name of Jesus occurs first in the apostolic benediction ( 2 Corinthians 13:14 ).
1 . God the Father is the ultimate Source of blessing, as it is through Jesus Christ the blessing comes to us.
2 . There is an entire equality between them, seeing the blessing is attributed to both.
3 . There is oneness of essence, as is indicated by the singular verb used in the passage.
II. THE GROUND OF EXPECTATION THAT THE BLESSINGS ASKED WILL BE GIVEN . "Who loved us, and gave us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace."
1 . The Divine love is the true ground of all our hopes of blessing, for it is everlasting, unchangeable, practical in its ends.
2 . The two elements in the Divine gift.
(a) A source of unfailing comfort in the midst of the trials of life, springing out of everlasting sources and sufficing to all eternity; for God is a "God of all comfort," and "if there be any consolation," it is in Christ.
(b) This comfort is a gift—a mark of Divine favour, not of human merit.
(a) This is "the hope of eternal life, which God, who cannot lie, promised before the world began" ( Titus 1:2 ).
(b) It is a good hope
( α ) because of its Author;
( β ) because of its foundation, "through grace;"
( γ ) because of its purifying effects (lJn 2 Thessalonians 3:4 ).
III. THE BLESSINGS PRAYED FOR .
1 . Heart-comfort. "Comfort your hearts." They needed to be comforted on account of their troubles respecting the second advent. None but God can give true and lasting comfort. "Thou hast put gladness into my heart."
2 . Establishment and perseverance. "And stablish you in every good word and work."
I. ERROR REGARDING THE COMING OF CHRIST . "Now we beseech you, brethren, touching the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and our gathering together unto him; to the end that ye be not quickly shaken from your mind, nor yet be troubled, either by spirit, or by word, or by Epistle as from us, as that the day of the Lord is now present; let no man beguile you in any wise." The apostle beseeches the Thessalonians as brethren, in the interest of correct views of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is his principal topic in both Epistles. The comforting side of the coming is the gathering together of all believers unto him, never to be followed by a separation, as set forth in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 , "Then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them" (the dead in Christ who have been raised) "be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord? By the way in which he introduces this gathering together, it can be seen that it was very attractive to him. It was that in the coming which he especially wished to be conserved. In the beginning of 1 Thessalonians 5:1-28 . the apostle had distinctly taught the uncertainty of the time of the coming. But representations had been made to the Thessalonians that the day of the Lord was actually beginning. Three forms which these representations might take, or, more probably, did take, are specified. There were representations founded upon pretended prophecy. There were also representations founded upon an alleged oral communication of the apostle. There were farther representations founded upon an alleged Epistle of the apostle. The existence and circulation of a fabricated Epistle seem to be hinted at in the words at the close of this Epistle: "The salutation of me Paul with mine own hand, which is the token in every Epistle: so I write." If the Thessalonians accepted of these representations, there was danger of their being precipitately shaken from their composure of mind and even thrown into a terrified state, as at sea men are discomposed and even horrified by the bursting of a storm upon them. The apostle, therefore, considered it necessary to write this Epistle, to put them on their guard against their being led away by these representations. Let no man beguile them in these ways, or, making it wider, in any other way.
II. THE ANTICHRISTIAN MANIFESTATION .
1 . The coming of Christ to be preceded by apostasy. "For it will not be, except the falling away come first." "Apostasy" (after the Greek) is the more technical word— the apostasy of which the Thessalonians had been told. There is, particularly, meant falling away from the faith of Christ. It is a movement begun by those who have been within the Christian circle, and who, after having been advantaged by Christianity in outward enlightenment and quickening, have ungratefully turned away. Or the movement away from Christ may dishonourably be encouraged by those who still remain within the Christian circle, but have lost faith in the distinctive teachings of Christianity. The name of "apostate" has been given to the Emperor Julian for his signal renunciation of Christianity, but it is a name which belongs to every one who in the struggle of life parts with his early Christian convict, ions, his good traditions. Let us see that we are not, in the smallest degree, contributing to the movement away from Christ.
2 . The revelation of the man of sin. "And the man of sin be revealed." It is now an exploded idea that the man of sin means popery. The principal interpreters—Olshausen, Ellicott, Alford, Eadie—hold to the idea of the man of sin being a person . He is supposed to be the last and worst product of the apostasy. He is a caricature of Christ, having a mystery, and revelation, and miracles, and claim of divinity, a coming and preparation, even as Christ has. He is as inclusive of all the bad forms of humanity, as Christ is of all its good forms. It cannot be said of this most unlovely conception that it has the similitude of truth. It cannot be dogmatically laid down as a matter of interpretation that the man of sin is a person, any more than the restrainer is a person. The designation "man of sin" points, in the first place, to sin as the essence of the apostasy. The moving away from Christ is an opposing of the Divine authority. The designation " man of sin" points, in the second place, to sin as working under human (not angelic) conditions, and, taken along with apostasy, points especially to the development of sin in human history. The designation "man of sin" points, in the third place, to this historical development, not as actual, but as idealized. As the language, "O man of God," is a call to consider the true ideal of manhood, so the man of sin may be viewed as the ideal of the development of sin among men. In so far as popery is after this ideal may it be said to be the man of sin. In so far as any of us take after the bad ideal of manhood may it be said to us, "O man of sin!" calling us to consider what we are following after. Let us see that we do not in the least merit the designation. By the revelation of the man of sin is to be understood the bringing out of the real nature of sin. It may put on specious forms, but it is essential vileness; it is uglier than the ugliest of creatures, it is more venomous than the serpent, it is more grovelling than the earthworm, it is blacker than darkness. And in the working of Providence in human history, it is intended that this should be, with accumulating evidence and unmistakably, brought out. And we are here taught that there cannot be the revelation of Christ at his coming until all that is evil in sin has been brought out.
3 . The son of perdition. "The son of perdition." The common Hebrew form is followed. Sprung from perdition, he has perdition as his destiny. The designation marks the result of the movement away from Christ. Every such movement must prove in the end abortive. How many of those movements that once had vitality in them have already ended in perdition! The designation was given by our Lord to Judas Iscariot: "And none of them is lost, but the son of perdition." And it is certainly not to be wondered at that he whose apostasy was aggravated by the proximity in which he stood to Christ should strikingly be shown in his suicidal end to be the son of perdition. In so far as any of us are moving away from Christ we are placing our paternity in perdition, and are working out perdition as our destiny. Let us, then, be warned by what will yet be seen to come out of sin.
4 . The opposer of Christ. "He that opposeth." It is not said, "He that opposeth Christ," but, from the way in which Christian thought is interwoven with the whole paragraph, we may understand that to be the meaning. We may, therefore, regard the movement as described by the designation "antichrist" with which John supplies us. As it is in its origin a movement away from Christ, so it comes to have the character of being directed against Christ. It is a movement in which advantages gained from Christ are unworthily used against him. As it is the object of God in the Church to put forward Christ for the acceptance of men, so it is the object of antichrist to draw away men from Christ. Popery is antichrist in so far as it does not give Christ and his words and his death their proper place in Christian belief and life. It may be said of us that we are antichrist in so far as we do not yield ourselves up to Christ, and do not to our utmost ability help forward the cause of Christ. "He that is not with me is against me, and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad."
5 . The deeper of self. "And exalteth himself against all that is called God or that is worshipped; so that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God." There is strong confirmation here of the doctrine of Muller, that all sin is of the nature of selfishness. Antichrist is selfishness rising to the impious height of self-deification. He raises himself above and against him who is truly called God, without thereby falling into idolatry; for he also raises himself above and against those that have only the name of gods, and, it is added (going beyond the actually named), above and against all that can be turned into an object of worship. He does not, therefore, shut out the sacred sphere; rather does he fill it with himself. He is the centre of all wisdom, power, and glory for which worship is due. The startling language is that he sitteth in the temple of God, setting himself forth as God. There is supposed to be meant a session in the actual temple in Jerusalem by those who, laying undue stress upon the language here, regard the paragraph as having already received its fulfilment. But there is reference to the actual temple only by way of illustration. As God was represented as sitting between the cherubim, requiring the adoration of all Israelites (as he was the object of adoration to the highest intelligences), so antichrist entertains the thought of divinity and strictly requires adoration. While in Christ's consciousness of divinity there was the element of infinite self-sacrifice, in antichrist's presumptuous thought of divinity there is only the element of utter selfishness. We are not to think here merely of him who sits in the Church and arrogantly wields spiritual power. Rather are we to see the tendency of the whole movement away from Christ. This is how it aims at expressing itself. This is the dreadful interpretation of what it would be at. And it is true of us all, in so far as we are selfish, that we are aiming at making a temple for ourselves in which to sit down and to require adoration. As we in our present state of feeling can only recoil from such self-deification, let us beware of that selfishness which is at the heart of sin.
6 . The Thessalonians reminded of former teachings on the above points. "Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things?" In his teachings on the coming he was not corrected or supplemented by recent revelation. He had occupied the same position from the beginning; such is undoubtedly his own contention, and is against the contention of some who attribute to him that he believed that he would live to see the coming. He reminds the Thessalonians here, not without some measure of blame, that when he was with them (and he singles out himself in making this statement) he told them some things which he was now putting down in his letter.
III. THE RESTRAINING POWER .
1 . What restrains the antichristian manifestation. "And now ye know that which restraineth, to the end that he may be revealed in his own season." This was another point on which he had given them information. It is left indefinite what the restraining power is. The prevailing opinion, as expressed by Ellicott, is " well-ordered human rule, the principles of legality as opposed to those of lawlessness —of which the Roman empire was the then embodiment and manifestation." It is true that civil rule keeps back many of the manifestations of evil. The civil ruler is a terror to evil doers. If men were allowed to give vent to their evil passions without dread of punishment, this world would be a pandemonium. But, at the same time, it is true that the worst manifestations of evil, of proud defiance of God, of bitter rancour against Christ (which are chiefly to be thought of in connection with the anti-christian movement), are those with which the civil magistrate has little to do. The condition upon which these manifestations depend is rather the increased setting forth of Christ. There is a manifestation of good going forward, as well as a manifestation of evil. It must yet be shown in human history that there is an essential loveliness belonging to the Christian life. Many Scriptures promise a period of conquest for the Church. When the Church extends its conquests there will be a solidarity of influence on the side of Christ of which no adequate conception can now be formed. The result of that wilt be, among those who participate in the antichristian movement, deepened hatred against Christ. As when he conquered on the cross there was a calling forth against him of the worst elements especially of superhuman evil, so when he advances to conquest in human history there will be a similar calling forth of the worst elements especially of human evil. The time when evil is thus powerfully to be revealed has been fixed by God. It may be said that the apostle should, according to the interpretation, have regarded the Christian manifestation as coming to a head. But it was open to him to regard it under a special aspect as that which in its yet partial character held back the full manifestation of antichrist.
2 . The present working of the mystery of lawlessness. "For the mystery of lawlessness doth already work." "Lawlessness," which corresponds to "sin," formerly used, is not to be taken as favouring the view that the restraining power is human rule. It points to the antichristian movement as characterized by a disposition to cast off all authority, especially the highest authority. The stress is to be laid on "mystery." Evil was then working, and in working was revealing itself, but its true nature as opposition to Christ was largely concealed, was only very partially revealed. A lurid light was thrown upon it by the ten great persecutions which, under the Roman emperors, were directed against Christianity. Light is thrown upon it by the attacks which in the present day are made upon Christianity. But it would seem that we have not seen all that is in it of opposition to Christ. The mystery of lawlessness still works.
3 . The removal of the restrainer. "Only there is one that restraineth now, until he be taken out of the way. And then shall be revealed the lawless one, whom the Lord Jesus shall slay with the breath of his mouth, and bring to nought by the manifestation of his coming." Ellicott regards the use of the masculine gender as a realistic touch, by which what was previously expressed by the more abstract "restraining power" is now represented as concrete and personified. It is strange how this should not be regarded as applying also to the "lawless one" to whom the restrainer is here opposed. If the restrainer is human rule, then his removal must mean the upturning (apparently general) of human rule. And that is what is contemplated by some as the conclusion to human history. But the restrainer being "Christianity not come to the season of its full manifestation," his removal must mean the arrival of that season. When Christianity, working among the multitudes of men, brings its full influence to bear on the antichristian movement, in what it calls forth of opposition, that movement will come to the completeness of its exposure. And antichrist, thus morally defeated, eternally disproved, will have taken away from it its sphere of operation. It will be slain with the breath of Christ's mouth, and brought to nought by the manifestation of his coming.
IV. THE LYING CHARACTER OF THE ANTICHRISTIAN MOVEMENT .
1 . Lies of Satan. "Even he, whose coming is according to the working of Satan with all power and signs and lying wonders." As Satan is a liar and the father of lies, so the antichristian movement which he inspires is characterized by lying. As Christ has power and signs and wonders of truth, so the antichristian movement has power and signs and wonders of lying. It is remarkable that the Church of Rome puts forward a claim of miracle working, which helps it to preserve its influence over minds, but which it cannot establish. The power and signs and wonders by which men are apt to be deluded now are more of an intellectual nature. It is objected to Christianity that the miracles with which it is bound up are shown by science to be impossible, it is objected that it presents too severe a view of our human condition, in representing us as standing in need of salvation. It is objected that it presents too severe a view of the character of God, in representing him as punishing sin in Christ. It is objected that it presents too severe a view of human duty, in calling upon us to forsake all and follow Christ. When these objections are powerfully presented, and so as to have the appearance of saving the character of God from aspersions, there may be the effect, which false miracles have often had, of men being deluded.
2 . Lies of Satan leading to unrighteousness. "With all deceit of unrighteousness." When men entertain false views, especially of the character of God, there is an easy transition to unrighteousness. There are many ways in which they can persuade themselves, that they may exercise liberty in their manner of living. They do not need to pray to God; they do not need to read God's Book; they do not need to keep God's day; they do not need to be strictly honourable in their transactions; they do not need to make sacrifices for others. It is enough that they keep up an appearance of probity and purity, and, it may be, of religion, before men. They can leave all their failings to the general mercy of God.
3 . Unrighteousness leading to destruction. "For them that are perishing. From unrighteousness there is a necessary, though, it may not be, an immediate, transition to destruction. When men do not observe the rules which are laid down for them by God, they are contending with God, and, contending with God, they cannot in the end succeed; for God is stronger than they. There were those who were perishing in their unrighteousness in Paul's day. And there are still those who seem to be perishing in their unrighteousness.
4 . The just dealing of God.
2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 . — Exhortation to steadfastness.
I . HOW GROUNDED .
1 . The election of the Thessalonians. "But we are bound to give thanks to God alway for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, for that God chose you from the beginning unto salvation." This is another overflowing of gratitude for the Thessalonians, who are described not, as in 1 Thessalonians 1:4 , as "brethren beloved of God," but as "brethren beloved of the Lord," i.e. sharing with Paul and his colleagues in the special love and care of him who presides over the brotherhood. There is the same inward binding that there was before ( 2 Thessalonians 1:3 ) to give thanks to God, and to give thanks to God alway. What gave perpetual matter of thanksgiving, as in 1 Thessalonians 1:4 , was the election of the Thessalonians. There is not brought in here, as there is there, their being chosen out of a condition of sin, but it is implied in their being chosen unto a condition of salvation. They had been chosen from the beginning, i.e. from eternity. When God contemplated the creation of a race of men, and contemplated at the same time the incursion of evil into human nature and human history, he also contemplated human salvation. It was also within the Divine plan (going out into all particulars) that the Thessalonians among others should be saved.
2 . Means of the realization of their election.
(a) From the Spirit. "In sanctification of the Spirit." Precedence is naturally given to the work of the Spirit. For we must feel that, if God had not approached us first, we never should have approached him. The work of the Spirit, from beginning to end, is a work of sanctification. It is a saving work, inasmuch as it is the reclamation of our nature from unholy uses. On the positive side it is the fitting our nature for Divine uses. As the Spirit is the Agent of our sanctification, his all-sufficient help must be entirely depended upon.
(b) From themselves. "And belief of the truth." In election we are responsible for our state of mind. The Spirit works on our mind through the truth. We may think of the truth that God has provided salvation for us. We may also think of the truth that God (according to 1 Thessalonians 1:10 ) has made us the offer of the love of the truth. We may further think of the Divine ideal to which our life is to be brought up. The Spirit has sovereign power in the presentation of truth to the mind; and what we have to do is to be receptive, to offer no obstacle to his presentation of the truth. And we are sanctified only in so far as we have received the truth into us.
II. HOW PUT . "So then, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye were taught, whether by word, or Epistle of ours." Election contemplating the means of its realization in faith, it is not improper to found upon election an exhortation to steadfastness. They had taken up their Christian position. Attempts would be made in the way of persecution to move them away from their position. The ill-grounded expectation of the immediate coming was fraught with perils to them. It was already having a bad effect upon some in making them idle. It would be trying, to think that it was well grounded and not to have it realized. It would even be trying, to know that it was ill grounded and to have to give it up. There would be danger of religious excitement being followed by reaction. Let them beware, then, of apostatizing; let them stand fast. The way in which they were to stand fast was by holding fast the traditions. By the "traditions" we are to understand the truths handed to men. For instance, there was the revelation which was necessary for the stablishing of the Thessalonians, that there was to be an apostasy before the coming of Christ. In the traditions they had been instructed both orally and by writing. We are limited to the latter mode of instruction. What are known as ecclesiastical traditions have not independent authority, but have to be tested by the written Word. All our oral instruction has to be founded upon the written Word. By being in writing, the truths handed to us are preserved from corruption. We know that we have them in the form in which God wishes us to have them. It is difficult to escape the influence of traditional interpretation. Yet there is always the opportunity of a true interpretation, while we have the text as it was left by inspired men. The written Word is one of the great boons conferred on men. It is a great advantage to a child that he has not everything to learn for himself, but has the benefit of the experience of his parents.
So it is a great advantage to us, that we are not left to our own childish and foolish thoughts, but that we have the written instructions of our heavenly Father. It is by holding to these written instructions, as an unchanging element in the midst of all the tests to which we are subjected, in the midst of all the temptations to which we are exposed, that we shall be enabled valiantly to maintain our Christian position.
III. HOW FOLLOWED UP . Invocation of the Divine blessing.
1 . How God is invoked.
(a) His fatherhood. "And God our Father." From evangelical activity there is a rise, through the Mediator, to him who is the Final Reason and Contriver of redemption. We have some influence with God when we can call him our Father. We naturally expect to have more influence with a friend than with a stranger. We can appeal to him as a friend. We can, if need be, intercede on the score of friendship and long acquaintance. So we can appeal to God as our Father, to bless not only ourselves but others. And, should every other appeal fail, surely this shall not fail. When the cry comes up on behalf of his needy children, "Our Father, wilt thou not bless?" surely he will not turn away his ear.
(b) Wherein it was manifested. "Which loved us." This is timed in the past, and calls up the great act of love—the gift of the Son. Our Father, who gave his Son for us. We can behold in this how God can love. Some would represent it as very unfatherly. But, apart from the Son's unforced consent, there is this consideration, that, where there is true fatherly feeling, it is not more easy to sacrifice a son than to sacrifice one's self. David felt this when he uttered his lamentation over Absalom: "Would God I had died for thee, O Absalom, my son, my son!" We must hold that, loving the Son infinitely, the Father could as well have sacrificed himself as his Son. The marvel and mystery is, that, loving his Son infinitely, he could be moved to sacrifice him for us his undeserving creatures. But surely by this act of devotion the love of God for us is placed forever beyond all doubt. In presence of the cross, to doubt, or to act as though we doubted, that God loves us, is doing him the most glaring injustice.
(c) What it obtained for us. "And gave us eternal comfort." There is no hiding it, that it is comfort that we all need. There is an evil heart, to keep us from being happy. It gives rise to slavish fear of God and forebodings of judgment. There is also an evil world, which alone is sufficient to keep us from being perfectly happy. It is an evil world, where there is exposure to poverty, to sickness, to bereavement, to death. It is an evil world, where, with sensitive spirits, we have to look forth on so much sin and wretchedness. Where, then, is the comfort? There is no real comfort for a guilty conscience in ignorance or distraction. It is unsubstantial comfort, to know that our suffering is common. There is some substantial comfort in the sympathy of our fellow men, but it is variable. We may not find friends all that we would desire them to be to us. Those by whom we are most comforted may be taken away, and we have to be comforted for their loss. But there is comfort provided by eternal love, and comfort that is eternal in its nature. There is comfort in knowing that our great Substitute has made full satisfaction for our sin. There is comfort in knowing that we are clasped to the heart of the everlasting Father. That is comfort which is neither deceitful nor fleeting. It is sufficient for us amid all the cares of life. It is independent of all contingencies. "And good hope." Comfort refers to time present; hope refers to time future. Beyond all that we have of good and of comfort under evil, there is hope. And what is this hope? It is the hope of our real joys being perfected, of our being delivered from the plague of an evil heart and the burden of an evil world, of our being placed where there will be no more need of comfort—in the presence of the eternal Love. It is also a good hope, in its being well founded—not founded on our own thoughts, but founded on the character and work and promise of God. It is a hope which is even now good in its cheering influence upon our hearts.
(d) Obtained without deserving of ours. "Through grace." The comfort is not self-created; we have had nothing to do with the procuring of it. But, seeing it has been graciously provided for us by eternal Love, we have good reason for taking it in the whole benefit into our hearts. The hope is one which we could not have dared to cherish of ourselves. It is far beyond anything that we could have thought of. But we cannot limit the grace of God. If it is his good pleasure to give us this hope, we have good reason for cherishing it.
2 . For what end God is invoked.
(a) Work. "In every good work." It was not unnecessary that they should be reminded that they were called to work, even to work with their hands. God grant them all the good elements which belong to work. Let the simplest work be done honestly. Let not their works "with self be soiled." Let them be done unto the glory of God. In these, and in all the elements of good work, let them be confirmed.
(b) Word. "And word." Good speaking is even more difficult than good acting. "If any man offend not in word, the same is a perfect man." God grant them all the good elements which belong to speaking. Let every word be characterized by truthfulness. Let it also have fitness; for "a word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." Let it also have wholesomeness, and not be like bad fruit. Let it breathe kindliness. Let it breathe loyalty to Christ. In these, and in all the elements of good speaking, let them be confirmed.—R.F.