Conversion: What Is It? Part 8

1 Thessalonians 1:10
The last words of our chapter — 1 Thessalonians 1 — now claim our attention. They furnish a very striking and forcible proof of the clearness, fullness, depth, and comprehensiveness of the apostle’s testimony at Thessalonica, and also of the brightness and reality of the work in the young converts in that place. It was not merely that they turned from idols to God, to serve the living and true God. This, through grace, they did, and that, too, with uncommon power, freshness, and fervor.
But there was something more; and we may assert with all possible confidence, that there would have been a grand defect in the conversion and in the Christianity of those beloved disciples, if that had been lacking. They were converted to wait for the Son of God from the heavens.
Let the reader give to this very weighty fact his most devout and profound attention. The bright and blessed hope of the Lord’s coming formed an integral part of the gospel which Paul preached, and of the Christianity of those who were converted by his ministry. That blessed servant preached a full gospel. He not only declared that the Son of God had come into the world, to accomplish the great work of redemption, and lay the everlasting foundation of the divine glory and counsels, but that He had gone back to the heavens, and taken His seat, as the victorious, exalted, and glorified Man, at the right hand of the throne of God; and that He is coming again, first, to receive His people to Himself, and conduct them into the very innermost circle of His Father’s house — the place prepared for them; and then to come forth with them, to execute judgment upon His enemies — gather out of His kingdom all that offend, and all that do iniquity, and set up His glorious dominion from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.
All this was included in the precious gospel which Paul preached, and which the Thessalonian converts received. We find an indirect, but very interesting intimation of this in a passage in Acts 17, where the inspired writer records what the infidel Jews thought and said about the apostle’s preaching. “But the Jews which believed not, moved with envy, took unto them certain lewd fellows of the baser sort, and gathered a company, and set all the city on an uproar, and assaulted the house of Jason, and sought to bring them out to the people. And when they found them not, they drew Jason and certain brethren unto the rulers of the city, crying, These that have turned the world upside down are come hither also; whom Jason hath received; and these all do contrary to the decrees of Caesar, saying that there is another king, Jesus.”
Such were the ideas which those poor ignorant, prejudiced unbelievers gathered from the preaching of the Lord’s beloved servants; and we can see in them the elements of great and solemn truths — the complete upturning of the present system of things, and the establishment of the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. “I will overturn, overturn, overturn it; and it shall be no more, until He come whose right it is; and I will give it Him” (Ezek. 21:2727I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him. (Ezekiel 21:27)).
But not only did the Lord’s coming and kingdom occupy a prominent place in the preaching of the apostle, it also shines brilliantly forth in all his teaching. Not only were the Thessalonians converted to this blessed hope; they were built up, established, and led on in it. They were taught to live in the brightness of it every hour of the day. It was not a dry, barren dogma, to be received and held as part of a powerless, worthless creed; it was a living reality, a mighty moral power in the soul — a precious, purifying, sanctifying, elevating hope, detaching the heart completely from present things, and causing it to look out, moment by moment — yes, reader, we repeat it with emphasis, moment by moment — for the return of our beloved Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, who loved us, and gave Himself for us.
It is interesting to notice that, in the two epistles to the Thessalonians, there is far more allusion to the Lord’s coming than in all the other epistles put together. This is all the more remarkable, inasmuch as they were the very earliest of Paul’s epistles, and they were written to an assembly very young in the faith.
If the reader will just glance rapidly through these two most precious writings, he will find the hope of the Lord’s return introduced in every one of the eight chapters, and in connection with all sorts of subjects. For example, in chapter 1 we have it presented as the grand object to be ever kept before the Christian’s heart, let his position or his relationship be what it may — the brilliant light shining at the end of his long pilgrimage through this dark and toilsome world. “Ye turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for” — What? The time of their death? No such thing, no allusion to such a thing. Death, for the believer, is abolished, and is never presented as the object of his hope. For what, then, were the Thessalonian disciples taught to wait? “For God’s Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead.”
And then mark the beauteous addition! “Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” This is the Person for whom we are waiting; our precious Saviour; our great Deliverer; the One who undertook our desperate case, who took, on our behalf, the cup of wrath, from the hand of infinite Justice, and exhausted it, forever; who cleared the prospect of every cloud, so that we can gaze upward into heaven, and onward into eternity, and see nothing but the brightness and blessedness of His own love and glory, as our happy home throughout the everlasting ages.
Oh, beloved Christian reader, how blessed to be looking out, morning, noon, eventide, and midnight, for the coming of our gracious Deliverer! What a holy reality to be ever waiting for the return of our own loving and beloved Saviour and Lord! How separating and elevating, as we rise each morning to start on our daily course of duty — whatever that duty may be, whether the scrubbing of a floor, or the evangelizing of a continent — to cherish the bright and blessed hope that, before the shades of evening gather round us, we may be summoned to ascend in the folds of the cloud of glory to meet our coming Lord!
Is this the mere dream of a wild fanatic or a visionary enthusiast? Nay, it is an imperishable truth, resting on the very same foundation that sustains the entire fabric of our most glorious Christianity. Is it true that the Son of God has trod this earth of ours in the Person of Jesus of Nazareth? Is it true that He lived and labored here amid the sins and sorrows of poor fallen humanity? Is it true that He sighed, and wept, and groaned under the sense of the wide-spread desolation which sin had wrought in this world? Is it true that He went to the cross, and there offered Himself without spot to God, in order to vindicate the Divine Majesty; to answer all the claims of the throne of God; to destroy all the works of the devil; to make a public show of all the powers of hell; to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself; to bear the sins of all those who, from the beginning to the end of time, should, through grace, believe in His name? Is it true that He lay for three days and three nights in the heart of the earth, and on the first day of the week rose triumphant from the grave, as the Head of the new creation, and ascended into the heavens, after He had been seen by at least five hundred witnesses? Is it true that, fifty days after His resurrection, He sent down the Holy Spirit, in order to fill and fit His apostles to be His witnesses to the ends of the earth? Is it true that, from the day of Pentecost to this very hour, He has been acting on His people’s behalf as an Advocate with the Father, a great High Priest with God; interceding for us in all our failures, sins, and shortcomings, and sympathizing with us in all our infirmities and in all our sorrows; and presenting continually our sacrifices of prayer and praise, in all the fragrance of His own glorious Person?
Are all these things true? Yes, thank God, they are all divinely true, all set forth in the pages of the New Testament, with most marvelous fullness, clearness, depth, and power; all rest on the solid foundation of Holy Scripture — a foundation which not all the powers of earth and hell, men and devils, can ever touch.
Well, then, the blessed hope of the Lord’s coming rests on precisely the same authority. It is not more true that our Lord Jesus Christ lay as a babe in the manger of Bethlehem; that He grew up to man’s estate; that He went about doing good; that He was nailed to the cross and laid in the tomb; that He is now seated on the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, than that He will come again to receive His people to Himself. He may come tonight. No one can tell when He will come, but at any moment He may come. The only thing that detains Him is His long-suffering, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. For eighteen long centuries has He waited, in lingering love, mercy, and compassion; and during all that time salvation has been ready to be revealed, and God has been ready to judge; but He has waited, and He still waits, in long-suffering grace and patience.
But He will come, and we should ever live in the hope of His coming. Thus the apostle taught his beloved Thessalonians to live. Thus he lived himself. The blessed hope was intimately bound up with all the habits and feelings of his daily life. Was it a question of reaping the fruit of his labors? Hear what He says: “For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at His coming?” He would see them all then and there. No enemy will be allowed to hinder that meeting. “We would have come unto you, even I Paul, once and again, but Satan hindered us.” Very wonderful! Very mysterious! Yet so it was. Satan hindered an angel of God in the discharge of his business in the days of Daniel; and he hindered an apostle of Christ in the accomplishment of his loving desire to see his brethren at Thessalonica. But, thanks be to God, he will not be able to hinder the joyful meeting of Christ and His saints for which we wait. What a moment that will be! What precious reunions! What sweet recognitions! What affectionate greetings of dear old friends! But, far above all, Himself! His smile! His welcome! His soul-stirring “Well done!”
What a precious soul-sustaining hope! Need we wonder at the prominent place it occupied in the thoughts and the teachings of the blessed apostle? He recurs to it on all occasions, and in connection with every subject. Is it a question of progress in the divine life and practical godliness? Thus he puts it: “And the Lord make you to increase and abound in love one toward another, and toward all, even as we do toward you; to the end he may establish your hearts unblameable in holiness before God, even our Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints”
Let the reader specially mark the last clause of this touching and beautiful quotation. “With all His saints.” What admirable wisdom shines here! The apostle was about to touch directly upon an error into which the Thessalonian believers had fallen, in reference to their departed friends. They feared that those who had fallen asleep would not participate in the joy of the Lord’s coming. This error is completely demolished by that brief sentence, “with all his saints.” Not one will be absent from that joyous meeting, that festive scene. Blessed assurance! Triumphant answer to all who would have us believe that none will share the joy of our Lord’s coming save those who see this, that, and the other! “With all his saints,” spite of their ignorance and their errors, their wanderings and their stumblings, their shortcomings and their failures. Our blessed Saviour, the everlasting Lover of our souls, will not shut any of us out at that blissful moment.
Is all this matchless grace to make us careless? God forbid! Nay, it is the abiding sense of it which alone can keep us alive to our holy responsibility to judge everything in us and in our ways which is contrary to the mind of Christ. And not only so, but the hope of our Lord’s return, if it be kept bright and fresh in the heart, must purify, sanctify, and elevate our entire character and course, as nothing else can. “Every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself even as He is pure.” It is morally impossible for any one to live in the hope of seeing his Lord at any moment, and yet have his heart set upon worldly things, upon money-making, self-indulgence, pleasure, vanity, folly. Let us not deceive ourselves. If we are daily looking out for the Son of God from heaven, we must sit loose to the things of time and sense. We may hold the doctrine of the Lord’s coming as a mere dogma in the intellect; we may have the entire range of prophetic truth mapped out before our mind’s eye, without its producing the smallest effect upon the heart, the character, or the practical life. But it is another thing altogether to have the whole moral being, the entire practical career, governed by the bright and blessed hope of seeing the One who loveth us, and hath washed us from our sins in His own most precious blood.
Would there were more of this amongst us! It is to be feared that many of us have lost the freshness and power of our true and proper hope. The truth of the Lord’s coming has become so familiar as a mere doctrine, that we can flippantly speak of it, and discuss various points in connection with it, and argue with people about it, and, all the while, our ways, our deportment, our spirit and temper give the lie to what we profess to hold.
But we shall not pursue this sad and humbling side of the subject. May the Lord look upon us, and graciously heal, restore, and lift up our souls. May He revive in the hearts of all His beloved people the proper Christian hope — the hope of seeing the bright and morning star. May the utterance of the whole heart, and the utterance of the whole life, be, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus!”
Here we must close this paper, and with it the entire series of papers on the great subject which has, for the past few months, engaged our attention. We had hoped to run through the two epistles to the Thessalonians, in company with our readers, in order to prove and illustrate the statement, that the hope of the Lord’s return was bound up in the heart of the apostle, with all the scenes, circumstances, and associations of Christian life. But we must allow the reader to do this for himself. Sufficient, we trust, has been said to show that true conversion, according to apostolic teaching, cannot stop short of the blessed hope of the Lord’s coming. A truly converted person is one who has turned from idols — has broken with the world — broken with his former self — turned to God, to find in Him all he can possibly want for time and eternity, to serve Him, and Him only — and, finally, “to wait for the Son of God from heaven.” Such we conceive to be the true and proper answer to the question, “What is Conversion?”
Reader, art thou converted? If not, what then? If thou art, does thy life declare it?