Gleanings from Paul
by A. W. Pink
29. Prayer for Comfort and Stability
2 Thessalonians 2:16-17
We Desire To Emphasize the need and importance of preserving the balance of truth, for in so doing we are really calling attention to the method followed by the Holy Spirit in the Scriptures, and that cannot be ignored without our suffering serious loss. There is a most blessed mingling together in the Word of those different elements which are so essential to a well-rounded Christian life, as in the natural world God has provided various kinds of food suited to the several needs of our bodies. A striking example of this is found in the immediate context of that prayer which here engages our attention. In 2 Thessalonians 2:13 and 14 one of the fundamental articles of our most holy faith is expressed, not in cold and formal manner, but rather as that which occasions deep and constant thanksgiving. Next, in 2 Thessalonians 2:15, the corresponding duty is enforced, the obligations which such a disclosure of divine grace devolves upon the favored objects and recipients of it. Then follows our prayer which, as we shall see, really grows out of 2 Thessalonians 2:13-15. Thus here we have doctrinal declaration, practical exhortation, and earnest supplication; that is what both preachers and hearers should ever blend together—in that order.
God’s Sovereign Grace to His Elect
What has just been pointed out is too weighty for us to dismiss without a further word of amplification. After describing the fearful judgment which God sends upon those who receive not His truth in the love of it, the apostle turned to those who were the objects of the divine favor. This moved him to exclaim, "But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" (2 Thess. 2:13). That should ever be the effect on a child of God as he solemnly contemplates the doom of unbelievers. Hearty thanksgiving should issue from his soul at the realization that the Lord eternally set His heart upon an elect company which He appointed to deliverance from the wrath to come. But what we would here particularly note is that God’s eternal election does not preclude effectual calling, nor does it render needless the exercise of our moral agency. Those "beloved of the Lord" (all of them, yet none other) are "chosen . . . to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." These three things must never be separated.
First, from the beginning the elect are "chosen . . . to salvation," God’s sovereign and eternal decree being the originating cause of salvation. Second, that decree is fulfilled "through" or by means of the "sanctification of the Spirit," the reference being to His quickening operation, when by the miracle of regeneration He sets them apart from those who are dead in trespasses and sins. Third, God’s eternal decree is only accomplished when the subjects of it personally appropriate the truth of the gospel to themselves. While in their unregenerate state they were incapable of any saving "belief of the truth," for their corrupt hearts were hostile to it, in love with error and sin. But when the miracle of grace is wrought within them their enmity to God is slain, and the gospel is welcomed as exactly suited to their dire need and is cordially embraced by them. Thus they spell out their election and evince their effectual call by the Holy Spirit through their "belief of the truth." Thereby the beloved of the Lord are brought to concur with God’s will in their salvation in the way of His appointing. So, far from the elect being saved whether they believe or not, they do not enter into God’s salvation except through their "belief of the truth."
Further, the regeneration of God’s beloved (their belief of the truth, and their initial participation in God’s great salvation) does not render them unfit subjects for exhortation: on the contrary, their accountability must be enforced and their moral agency brought into exercise. Those who have received spiritual life require instruction and encouragement to "stir up the gift which is in" them, and urging to perform their duties. Accordingly, we find the apostle bidding them, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which ye have been taught, whether by word, or [by] our epistle" (2 Thess. 2:15). Paul did not consider such an exhortation legalistic or useless because he was assured that they would do the things which he commanded them (2 Thess. 3:4). The operation of divine grace does not set aside the discharge of human responsibility, but it equips us for it. Our concurrence with God is required to the end of our earthly course. Yet such exhorting of the saints is far from implying any sufficiency in them to comply in their own strength. Paul knew full well that his order would prevail little with them without God’s blessing and help, therefore he added supplication to his order.
The Apostle’s Concern for the Thessalonian Saints
"Now our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father, which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace, comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work" (2 Thess. 2:16-17). As we have pointed out formerly, these Thessalonian saints were enduring a great fight of affliction from without, and therefore their ministerial father here sought to occupy them with the rich compensations and provisions which the divine lovers of their soul had made for their peace and cheer. They had been experiencing many "persecutions and tribulations" (2 Thess. 1:4), and therefore he made earnest intercession for them that they might be further comforted by God and energized by His grace to the close of life. Having already considered the setting or connections of this prayer, let us ponder first, its Addressees, or the Objects to whom it is made; second, its grounds of confidence for an answer; third, its specific requests, and then seek to make application of the whole to ourselves today.
"Our Lord Jesus Christ himself, and God, even our Father" are the Addressees. In the original there is an emphasis which is not preserved in our more euphonious translation. The Greek reads, "Now himself Lord, our Jesus Christ, and God and Father our." First, let us carefully notice the fact that here is still another instance where prayer is made directly to the Redeemer. It is incumbent upon us to approach the Father and direct our petitions to Him in and through the mediation of our great High Priest, owning the fact that there is no other way or means of access to Him. Yet it is equally our privilege and duty to address ourselves immediately to the Son, that He may receive the honor and homage which are His due as being one with the Father. We should also acknowledge Him as the Purchaser and Bestower of all our spiritual blessings. The "which hath loved us, and given us everlasting consolation" that immediately follows takes in both the Son and the Father, and since we are indebted to the one as much as to the other, Each is to be equally loved, revered, and magnified by us. Faith should especially be placed in both the Father and the Son in a season of persecution and tribulation since we are assured both have our best interests at heart.
Christ Jesus Presented as the Lord
Second, let us carefully notice the manner in which the Son is here presented: "Now Himself Lord, our Jesus Christ." Order and emphasis are here which are sadly lacking in modern ministry. The apostle declared, "We preach . . . Christ Jesus the Lord" (2 Cor. 4:5), "preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all)" (Acts 10:36). Christ is "Lord" in two ways: First, by that right which pertains to Him as the Creator, which right belongs to Him equally with the Father and the Spirit. As the Creator of the world, He is the Sovereign of it as shown by the winds and waves obeying His word. Second, by right of dominion, which belongs to Him as Redeemer. This is partly by divine donation: "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" (Matthew 28:18). "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ" (Acts 2:36); having "put all things under his feet" (Eph. 1:22). It is also His right by purchase and conquest: "For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living" (Rom. 14:9). By His death He merited and by His resurrection He attained the exalted station of universal dominion, "upholding all things by the word of his power" (Heb. 1:3; cf. Revelation 1:18).
By passive subjection all creatures in heaven and in earth are under the power and dominion of the Son of God, our Redeemer, as will openly appear on the last great day when, in the name of Jesus, every knee shall bow "of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and . . . every tongue . . . [shall] confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. 2:10-11). Therefore even kings and great men of the earth are now bidden to "serve the LORD with fear" (Ps. 2:10-11). Everyone who hears the gospel is also required to do so, for in the gospel Christ’s dignities and rights are made known to men. Those who "obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ . . . shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (2 Thess. 1:8-9). Thus, the first duty of the evangelist is to press upon his hearers the claims of Christ, calling on them to throw down the weapons of their warfare against Him and to submit to His scepter, to cease serving sin and Satan and yield themselves to His sway. On His entrance into this world the divine announcement was made: "Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). Only as the throne of the heart is freely offered to Christ does He become the "Savior" of anyone, i.e., of those who cease being rebels against Him.
That which distinguishes Christians from non-Christians is their surrender to the authority of Christ. He is their Lord by voluntary submission. ‘They . . . first gave their own selves to the Lord" (2 Cor. 8:5). That is, they repudiated the world, the flesh, and the devil, took Christ’s yoke upon them, and solemnly covenanted to henceforth love and serve Him alone (Isa. 26:13). The word to Christians is "As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him" (Col. 2:6). They have intelligently and freely accepted Him as their Lord, renouncing all other lords and idols, enthroning Him in their affections, desiring Him to rule their lives. That is exactly what true conversion consists of: turning from sin to Christ, ceasing from self-pleasing to be in subjection to His authority; and the sins of all such (and of none other) are pardoned as they trust in His blood. That is the order of our present verse: "Now himself Lord, our Jesus Christ." He is not "our Jesus Christ" until He has first been received as Lord! That is ever the order of the Scripture: "My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Savior" (Luke 1:46-47). "The everlasting kingdom of our  Lord and  Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 1:11). "Through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 2:20). "Grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Pet. 3:18).
Accepting Christ as Personal Savior
Man, with his invariable perversity, has reversed God’s order. Modern evangelism urges giddy worldlings, with no sense of their lost condition, to "accept Christ as their personal Savior"; and when such "converts" prove unsatisfactory to the churches, special meetings are arranged where they are pressed to "consecrate themselves to Christ as Lord." Christ must be received according to God’s appointed terms. He is "the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him" (Heb. 5:9). But the heart language of all who despise and reject Him is "We will not have this one to reign over us" (Luke 19:14). In contrast, the attitude of the saints is "Himself Lord, our Jesus Christ." To which the apostle here added, "And God and Father our." He too stands in a double relation to us: our God by sovereign dominion, our Father by gracious regeneration. The two divine Persons were here jointly addressed to evince Their coequality and to teach us that we must not look to and rest in the Mediator to the exclusion or even the neglect of exercising a lively faith in the One who sent Him. Having referred first to the One whose work on the soul is the more immediate, the apostle guards against giving the impression that the Father is any less deeply interested in our welfare than is the Son.
"Which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace." Those words reveal the various grounds for the apostle’s confidence that an answer would be granted to the petitions which follow. They are regarded as "the grounds of audience and success," as they are well styled by Thomas Manton. This clause is immediately connected with the preceding one, as its opening "which" intimates, for that pronoun includes both the Persons here addressed. First, "Himself Lord, our Jesus Christ." In this divine adoration the apostle would exalt Him in the esteem of the saints as coequal with the Father. The emphatic "Himself" at the beginning of the sentence was designed to contrast His almighty power and infinite love with the comparatively feeble affection which Paul bore to the suffering Thessalonians and the ministerial assistance he sought to render them, as well as their inability to "stand fast" in their own strength. Second, "And God and Father our." He too had their welfare equally at heart and must be given equal place in their thoughts and affections as commended to them by the endearing "our" God and Father.
"Which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace." Taking the three together, we may observe what a strong emphasis is here laid upon the fact that the saints’ consolations and comforts proceed from pure and bounteous benignity. First, we are shown that divine love is their fountain or origin; then we are told the same are "given" us, and nothing is more free than a gift; and last, they are plainly declared to be "through grace." The apostle found encouragement in these truths and emboldenment to seek further blessings for these saints. And thus it needs to be with us when we are about to pray. Nothing is more assuring to the heart than the realization that we are approaching the bounteous One who "giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not" (James 1:5). Nothing is better suited to dispel all doubts and fears than the knowledge that we are invited to draw boldly nigh to "the throne of grace." Well suited is such a throne to beggars who have no merits of their own. Equally fitted for the ill-deserving and defiled who come to confess their sins. Let all such recall they are coming to "the God of all grace," whose mercy is free and infinite and "endureth for ever."
The Love of God the Spring of All Our Blessings
Considering separately or distinctly these grounds of assurance for a hearing at the mercy seat, we may view the divine love as the cause, and the everlasting consolation and good hope as the effects of the same. "Which hath loved us" refers to both the Son and the Father. In the economy of redemption the love of the Father is first, for though Christ communicated the love of the Father to His people, it was the Father’s love which furnished Christ for them. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." The love of God for His elect is the spring of all their blessings. It was His love which chose them in Christ before the foundation of the world: "in love having predestinated . . . [them] unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself" (Eph. 1:4-5). It was His love which provided a Savior for them: "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10). It was His love which gave the Holy Spirit to quicken us: "I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee" (Jer. 31:3). It is His love which chastens us when we sin (Heb. 12:6), and which suffers nothing to separate us from Him in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:39).
The love of the Son is made equally manifest in His redemption of His people. It was His love for them which made Him willing to become their Surety, to take upon Himself the form of a servant, to be made in the likeness of sinful flesh. It was His love for them which moved Him to take upon Himself their debts and discharge their obligations, being made under the law that He might render perfect obedience to its precepts in their behalf and suffer its awful curse in their stead. "Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it" (Eph. 5:25). "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). How we need to pray with the apostle that we may "know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge" (Eph. 3:19); that is, that we may be constantly occupied with it, that we may have more spiritual conceptions of it, be nourished by and swallowed up in it. Says the Savior of our souls, "As the Father hath loved me, so have I loved you" (John 15:9): we should particularly remember that as we draw nigh to Him in prayer. What liberty of approach and freedom of utterance are mine when I realize I am about to petition the One "who loved me, and gave himself for me" (Gal. 2:20) and that His love is ever the same toward me!
The Love of the Spirit
For the benefit of young preachers we will devote one paragraph to the love of the Spirit, for which we are as much indebted as the Father’s and the Son’s. "God is love" is to be understood equally of each of the three Persons. In Romans 15:30 distinct mention is made of "the love of the Spirit," yet how little is ever heard of the same! The entire ministry of the Spirit to the saints is one of fathomless and amazing love. In love He sought them out when they were dead in sin. In love He quickened them into newness of life, for nothing but love could have moved Him to take pity on such vile and leprous creatures. In incomprehensible love He takes up His abode in our hearts. What a marvel that the Holy Spirit should indwell such worms of the earth and make our bodies His temples! In love He bears with our infirmities and "maketh intercession within us." Infinitely patient is His long-suffering to us. In love He bears witness with our spirits that we are the sons of God. In love He teaches, guides, strengthens, fructifies, and preserves us to the end. Then let us be far more on our guard against grieving this Lover of our souls.
"Which hath loved us." That is what the apostle eyed first as he was about to make intercession for those tried saints, and that is what our faith must never lose sight of, for nothing else will keep our hearts warm and our affections fresh to God. All of God’s dispensations to and all of His dealings with us should be considered in the light of His infinite and unchanging love for us. Yet that is only possible as faith is daily exercised regarding these facts. When God’s providences are contemplated and interpreted by carnal reason, unbelief clouds our vision, and we give the devil an advantage to inject into our minds, poisonous and blasphemous aspersions against God. It is one of the enemy’s favorite devices to induce a Christian to entertain doubts of God’s love toward him—especially so in a time of trial or tribulation—and nought but "the shield of faith" can stop his fiery darts. Faith resists his evil suggestions, looks away from the things seen, and lays hold upon the declarations and promises of Him who has covenanted with His people, "I will not turn away from them, to do them good" (Jer. 32:40). There is solid ground to rest upon amid the storms of life. This is an unfailing cordial for the fainting heart.
"God . . . hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace" (2 Thess. 2:16). Divine love is the fountain; everlasting consolation and good hope are the streams which flow from it. God’s love for His people preceded their fall into sin, both historically and as foreseen by Him, for it was a love of goodwill and not of compassion or pity. As the first Adam was "the figure of him that was to come" (Rom. 5:14), so Eve was the original type of the Church as the Bride of Christ (Gen. 2:24; Ephesians 5:31-32). Eve was created and given to Adam by God before he transgressed, and she was as pure and upright as he was, fully suited to be his wife and companion. A holy Adam and a holy Eve were united in wedlock prior to the entrance of evil into this world. That was a blessed foreshadowing of the fact that God appointed a sinless and holy Church to be the wife and companion of His Son, and accordingly she was given a marriage union with Him in the eternal purpose of God antecedent to His foreview of Adam’s defection and the Church’s fall in him, her federal head, for he was equally the head of all mankind. The fact that Eve did not keep her first estate in no wise affected the fact that she was Adam’s sinless wife previously.
God’s Immutable Love for His Elect
In Eden God typified in a most wonderful way His secret and everlasting counsels respecting His own elect. His love to them was like Himself: incomprehensible, infinite, immutable. Nothing could change or cloud it. Sin, far from quenching His love, only provided occasion for Him to manifest the strength and durability of that love, and to go forth in mercy and compassion. As Adam did not cast off his wife when she yielded to the serpent’s wiles, neither did God revoke His benign purpose when the Church became dead in trespasses and sins through the fall. No, it seems clear from the Word that "Adam was not deceived" (1 Tim. 2:14), that out of love to Eve he voluntarily and deliberately joined her in her fallen condition, thereby foreshadowing the abounding love of Christ for His Church in being willing not only to assume our nature and in all things "to be made like unto his brethren" (Heb. 2:17) but also to be "made . . . sin for us" (2 Cor. 5:21) and to bear our iniquities, and in consequence be made a curse for us. Upon His foreview of our fall God entered into an everlasting covenant with Christ, wherein arrangements were made for Him to save His people from their sins and provide "everlasting consolation" for them.
"And hath given us everlasting consolation." There is some difference of opinion among the commentators whether that "consolation" is to be regarded as exclusively an objective one or whether it also includes our subjective experience. Personally, we consider it wholly objective, or outside of ourselves, though in proportion as faith acts upon it we shall enjoy the blessedness of it. We base that view first upon the tense of the verb "hath given," not "is now giving" us, as it would read if our present experience were being described. Second, because of the qualifying word everlasting, which signifies that the "consolation" here spoken of is a durable, immutable, eternal one; whereas nothing is more fluctuating and fleeting than the inward consolation which most of the saints enjoy in this life, for their moods and feelings appear to be almost as variable as the weather—now on the mountaintop, then in the valley, if not in the slough of despond. And third, unless we regard this "everlasting consolation’’ as an objective one, that is, as having reference to the matter or substance of our peace and joy, we confound it with the "comfort your hearts" in the next verse where the apostle makes request that they might have the experimental effect and personal sense of the same within them.
"And hath given us everlasting consolation." To what was the apostle referring? The answer to that question may be stated in two different forms. Manton terms it "in the new covenant," and that provides a satisfactory meaning, for under the "old covenant" with the nation of Israel the promises and blessings set forth were earthly and temporal. But the new covenant contains "a better hope" and "better promises" (Heb. 7:19; 8:6) as the whole of that Epistle is designed to set forth. But personally we prefer to say that God has given us "everlasting consolation" in the gospel, for though the gospel enunciates the new covenant, it is also primarily a transcript of the everlasting covenant which God made with Christ, viewed as the Head of His people; and the "everlasting covenant" is the foundation of all the believer’s consolations and hopes. The Gospel reveals the contents of that everlasting covenant as Romans 16:25-26 affirms. Take away the gospel and the very foundation of our consolation and hope is removed. That is made clear in 1 Corinthians 15 where, after stating that the salient facts of the gospel are that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, Paul pointed out to those who denied His resurrection, "If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain" (1 Cor. 15:14).
Paul then went on to declare, "If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable" (1 Cor. 15:19), which was the reverse way of showing that in the gospel God has given us "everlasting consolation" ratified by Christ’s resurrection. Those words of 1 Corinthians 15:19 make it clear that we have no ground for hope beyond this life except in the divine revelation made in the gospel. Nay, we may go further and affirm that even for this present life there is no hope for any sinner apart from the revelation of Christ in the gospel of God’s grace. It cannot be too plainly and emphatically insisted upon today that if the gospel is jettisoned there is no well-grounded hope for any man, either in this life or the life to come. The Christless, whether they live moral or immoral lives, are described by the infallible pen of inspiration as "having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12). And such "hope" as they do cherish is but imaginary, blind, impudent, and presumptuous; in the moment of death it will be found to be empty deceit. "The hypocrite’s hope shall perish" (Job 8:13). Make sure your hope is grounded upon the gospel.
Consolation Found Only in the Gospel
"Which hath loved us, and hath given us everlasting consolation." The word consolation means "the alleviation of misery, solace." In the gospel (and nowhere else) do we learn of the wondrous and gracious provision which God has made for His people considered as lost sinners. As intimated above, the "which hath loved us" goes back to the source of all, when the triune God set His heart upon the Church and blessed it "with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" (Eph. 1:3). Then came the divine foreview of the Church’s defection in the Adam fall, which opened the way for a further manifestation of God’s superabounding grace. That was evidenced in the everlasting covenant in which arrangements were made for the Son to save His people from their sins, and for the Spirit to quicken them into newness of life. The gospel contains a transcript of that everlasting covenant, proclaiming the distinctive goodness and gracious acts of each of the Persons of the Godhead, which gospel is fully expounded in the Epistle to the Romans as its opening verse indicates (cf. Romans 1:9, 16-17; 16:25-27). In the gospel God has given us everlasting consolation, revealing the remedy for sin, His provision for our holiness and happiness, the endless bliss He has "prepared for them that love him" (1 Cor. 2:9).
The "everlasting consolation" is in marked contrast with the evanescent pleasure afforded by material comforts, which perishes with the using; it differs also from the temporal portion allotted Israel as a nation. That consolation which God has provided for His beloved Church is endless: it does not die with the body, but is as enduring as the soul, proceeding from God Himself, issuing from His free grace, grounded upon His sure Word. Of what does this "everlasting consolation" consist? In complete and effectual alleviation of the misery which our fall in Adam produced, and deliverance from all the dire consequences of the same. By Adam’s disobedience the Church became judicially alienated from God and experimentally separated from Him. By the entrance of sin the favor, the life, the image of God in the soul, was lost and fellowship with Him totally severed. All of this was graphically represented by the driving out of man and God’s placing "at the east of the garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life" (Gen. 3:24). But the gospel makes known how the work of the last Adam reverses all that, resulting in the reconciliation of the Church to God, restoring her to His unclouded favor, renewing her after His image, and bringing her into communion with Him.
"And hath given us everlasting consolation and good hope through grace." Those gifts though quite distinct are really two parts of one whole, the former referring to the believer’s present portion, the latter to his future. Both of them are the fruitage of that "everlasting righteousness" which Christ brought in for His people (Dan. 9:24), having wrought out the same for them as their Representative, by not only suffering in their stead the full penalty of the broken law but also by rendering perfect obedience to its precepts on their behalf. Thereby Christ not only makes complete atonement for all their transgressions, so that the guilt and pollution of the same are forever removed from the sight of the Judge of all, but thereby obtains for them a sure title to the reward of the law so that they are justified or pronounced righteous before Him with full acceptance. The reward of the law is "life" (Rom. 7:10) as its penalty is death. The gift of grace is eternal life, and accordingly we read of "eternal life, which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began" (Titus 1:2), therefore before any part of the Scriptures was written. Consequently the reference must be to the promise made to our federal Head in the everlasting covenant. The believer enjoys now both an earnest and a foretaste of that "eternal life."
"And hath given us . . . good hope." This too refers not to any inward comfort but to that which is the sure ground of comfort. In this verse Paul contemplates not the grace of hope in the believer’s soul but rather the object upon which that grace is to be exercised. The "good hope" equally with the "everlasting consolation" is here entirely objective, namely, that which is set before us in the gospel. "For the hope which is laid up for you in heaven, whereof ye heard before in the word of the truth of the gospel" (Col. 1:5). Here "hope" is the object, namely, the glorious and blessed estate which is reserved for us hereafter. In Scripture "hope" always contemplates something future, something of which we are not yet in actual possession: "Hope that is seen [experienced or possessed] is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? But if we hope for that we see not, then do we with patience wait for it" (Rom. 8:24-25.) Here it is the grace of hope which is in mind. "That . . . we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us" (Heb. 6:18). Here again hope is the object, and as faith "lays hold" of the same, "strong consolation" is produced in the soul.
Good Hope Through Grace
In attempting to define the character and substance of our "good hope through grace" we cannot do better than pattern our outline after that of Thomas Manton. First, this hope is based on the personal return of our Redeemer: "Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13). Hope is there described by its grand Object, when He shall be seen no more "through a glass darkly" but "face to face"; when all the holy longings and aspirations of His redeemed will be fully realized. Then Christ will see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied, possessing what He purchased, and conducting the Church into the eternal abode which He has prepared for her. In proportion as our faith is exercised on that promise, and as our love burns and yearns for the Lover of our souls, we shall be "looking for," eagerly awaiting, His appearing. Second, the resurrection of the dead: "[I] have hope toward God . . . that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust" (Acts 24:15; cf. 26:6-8). At the return of Christ the living saints will be changed and the sleeping ones raised in power and glory, and "fashioned like to his glorious body" (Phil. 3:21; 1 Corinthians 15; 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).
Third, the vision of God in Christ, when we shall at length be admitted into His presence, see Him as He is, and be made like Him both for holiness and happiness (1 John 3:2). Fourth, our heavenly inheritance: an inheritance which is "incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven" for us (1 Pet. 1:4). That will consist of "fullness of joy" in God’s presence, "pleasures for evermore" at His right hand (Ps. 16:11). You will agree, Christian reader, that all of that is "a good hope." It is wholly "through grace," and in no way earned by human merits. Have we not good cause, sure ground, to "rejoice in hope of the glory of God"? (Rom. 5:2). But only as we exercise faith on what God has revealed in the gospel do we rejoice. It was on this supreme good, namely, the eternal vision and fruition of God, that the eye of David was fixed when be said, "As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness" (Ps. 17:15). Then let us be more in prayer that the grace of hope within us may be more engaged with these glorious objects of hope without us.
This brings us to the special requests made by the apostle in this prayer: "comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work" (2 Thess. 2:17). In that first petition Paul was asking that the everlasting consolation and good hope given them in the gospel might be effectually applied to the souls of those persecuted saints. "Comfort your hearts," present tense, in contrast with the "hath given us" in the preceding verse. This is clear proof of the verse’s entire objectivity, for if the "consolation" and "good hope" were in respect to their experience, there was no need to ask that their hearts be comforted. The supplication was that they might have inward enjoyment of the same, that the glorious contents of the gospel should be brought home in power to their hearts, that the substance of their consolation and the object of their hope would be made so real and solid as to fill them with peace and joy. Paul desired that they might have such a satisfying and blissful realization of the divine love and its manifestations to them that no tribulations and sufferings should be able to rob them or even becloud the same in their apprehensions.
The Coexistence of Faith and Hope
Here, as always, more was implied than was actually expressed. In order for such comfort to be experienced, their graces must be in exercise. The revelation which God has made to us in the gospel profits us nothing until it is personally appropriated by faith. The wonderful vista of the future which is there unveiled to the saints does not animate them unless the grace of hope is also employed. Though distinguishable, gospel faith and gospel hope, twin graces in the soul, are as fundamental to the believer as are light and heat to the sun. Faith does not exist without hope, and hope has no being apart from faith. As a Christian’s faith is, so is his hope. They are alike founded on and rooted in God’s Word. Faith receives Christ as He is there set forth; hope confidently expects all the blessings there promised. Christ is equally the Object of our faith and of our hope; yes, He is "our hope" (1 Tim. 1:1): its substance and its cause. Both work by love (Gal. 5:6), which is the fulfilling of the law. Faith is more than intellectual, hope is more than emotional; both are spiritual and dynamic, conforming the soul to the character of their objective.
But while it is the believer’s responsibility to keep his graces in constant exercise, it is not absolutely in his own power to do so, and therefore the apostle supplicated the Lord Jesus Christ and God the Father to "comfort the hearts" of the Thessalonians. It is a great mercy for the distressed to be truly comforted, yet it does not lie in the power of any creature to administer the same. That is the prerogative of the Almighty: "I, even I, am he that comforteth you" (Isa. 51:12). Therefore He is designated "the God of all comfort" (2 Cor. 1:3), "God, that comforteth those that are cast down" (2 Cor. 7:6). He may in His sovereign condescension use instruments in doing so, but the power and blessing are entirely His. In His gracious ministry to the Church, the Spirit is denominated "the Comforter" (John 16:7), for He is the immediate Author of all our experimental consolations as He is the Quickener, Maintainer, and Fructifier of our graces. Therefore we read that "we through the Spirit wait for the hope of righteousness" (Gal. 5:5). He alone can make us cheerful amid sufferings, patient during the period of waiting the fulfillment of the promise, persevering in duty when there is so much to discourage.
"Comfort your hearts, and stablish you in every good word and work." These two petitions are closely related. This appears more clearly when we understand the meaning of our English word comfort: con fortis, "with strength." The Greek word here rendered "comfort" is literally "to call alongside, to help." It is not a soporific or pain-deadener, as "comfort" implies in ordinary usage, but a renewing of moral energy, a spiritual vivification in view of trials yet to be faced. God alone is capable of imparting such "comfort." Thomas Manton defined comfort thus:
"Comfort is a strengthening of the mind when it is in danger of being weakened by fears and sorrows, or the strength and stay of the heart in trouble: ‘This is my comfort in my affliction: for thy word hath quickened me’ (Ps. 119:50). ‘Thou hast put gladness in my heart’ (Ps. 4:7). God’s comfort is like a soaking shower that goes to the root and refreshes the plants of the earth rather than a morning dew that wets only the surface. Other comforts tickle the senses and refresh the outward man, but this penetrates the heart."
These Petitions Imply Responsibilities on the Believer’s Part
"And stablish you in every good word and work," which is only possible as God first comforts or strengthens with might in the inner man. As none but God can comfort or strengthen, so He alone can "stablish" us and enable us to persevere. There is a powerful tendency in us to stray (Ps. 119:176). It is good for us when we feel the need of crying,
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love:
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it;
Seal it for Thy courts above.
Nevertheless, we must bear in mind that these petitions imply our obligations. Though we cannot comfort ourselves, it is our responsibility to avoid the things which hinder: carnal fears, worldly delights, sins against conscience (which destroy our peace), grieving the Spirit. So too we must seek to be instruments in God’s hand for comforting others: by speaking words to those who are weary, by lifting up the hands which hang down. Likewise it is our duty to use those means which promote our establishment in the faith, and to beware of everything that tends to make us waver and temporize. To falter in the path of duty chills our joy. We quote Thomas Manton again: "By ‘every good work’ is meant sound doctrine; by ‘every good work" holiness of life. Establishment in faith and holiness is a needful blessing, and earnestly to be sought of God."
Paul’s prayer is for increased grace and for the quickening of our graces, particularly that we may ever obey our Lord Jesus Christ and love our Father. The singular number of the verbs "comforted" and "stablish" (which is not reproduced in the English) intimates the unity of the two Persons which are the common Objects of the verbs (cf. 1 Thessalonians 3:11). The equality of the Persons is seen in these petitions being addressed jointly to both. The "hath loved" of 2 Thessalonians 2:16 looks back to 2 Thessalonians 2:13, the "good hope" to 2 Thessalonians 2:14, and the petitions of 2 Thessalonians 2:17 to the exhortation of 2 Thessalonians 2:15.