Calvin's Commentaries, Vol. 42: Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians, tr. by John King, [1847-50], at sacred-texts.com
2 Thessalonians 1:1-7
1. Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
1. Paulus et Silvanus et Timotheus Ecclesiae Thessalonicensium in Deo Patre nostro et Domino Iesu Christo,
2. Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
2. Gratia vobis et pax a Deo Patre nostro et Domino Iesu Christo.
3. We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;
3. Gratias agere debemus Deo semper de vobis, fratres, quemadmodum dignum est, quia vehementer augescit fides vestra, et exuberat caritas mutua uniuscuiusque omnium vestrum;
4. So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:
4. Ut nos ipsi de vobis gloriemur in Ecclesia Dei, de tolerantia vestra et fide in omnibus persequutionibus vestris et afflictionibus quas sustinetis,
5 Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:
5. Ostensionem iusti iudicii Dei: ut digni habeamini regno Dei, pro quo et patimini.
6. Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;
6. Siquidem iustum est apud Deum reddere iis, qui vos affligunt, afflictionem:
7. And to you who are troubled rest with us.
7. Et vobis, qui affligimini, relaxationem nobiscum.
1 To the Church of the Thessalonians which is in God. As to the form of salutation, it were superfluous to speak. This only it is necessary to notice — that by a Church in God and Christ is meant one that has not merely been gathered together under the banner of faith, for the purpose of worshipping one God the Father, and confiding in Christ, but is the work and building as well of the Father as of Christ, because while God adopts us to himself, and regenerates us, we from him begin to be in Christ. (1Co 1:30)
3 To give thanks. He begins with commendation, that he may have occasion to pass on to exhortation, for in this way we have more success among those who have already entered upon the course, when without passing over in silence their former progress, we remind them how far distant they are as yet from the goal, and stir them up to make progress. As, however, he had in the former Epistle commended their faith and love, he now declares the increase of both. And, unquestionably, this course ought to be pursued by all the pious — to examine themselves daily, and see how far they have advanced. This, therefore, is the true commendation of believers — their growing daily in faith and love. When he says always, he means that he is constantly supplied with new occasion. He had previously given thanks to God on their account. He says that he has now occasion to do so again, on the ground of daily progress. When, however, he gives thanks to God on this account, he declares that the enlargements, no less than the beginnings, of faith and love are from him, for if they proceeded from the power of men, thanksgiving would be pretended, or at least worthless. Farther, he shews that their proficiency was not trivial, or even ordinary, but most abundant. So much the more disgraceful is our slowness, inasmuch as we scarcely advance one foot during a long space of time.
As is meet. In these words Paul shews that we are bound to give thanks to God, not only when he does us good, but also when we take into view the favors bestowed by him upon our brethren. For wherever the goodness of God shines forth, it becomes us to extol it. Farther, the welfare of our brethren ought to be so dear to us, that we ought to reckon among our own benefits everything that has been conferred upon them. Nay more, if we consider the nature and sacredness of the unity of Christ’s body, such a mutual fellowship will have place among us, that we shall reckon the benefits conferred upon an individual member as gain to the whole Church. Hence, in extolling God’s benefits, we must always have an eye to the whole body of the Church.
4 So that we ourselves glory in you. He could not have bestowed higher commendation upon them, than by saying that he sets them forward before other Churches as a pattern, for such is the meaning of those words: — We glory in you in the presence of other Churches. For Paul did not boast of the faith of the Thessalonians from a spirit of ambition, but inasmuch as his commendation of them might be an incitement to make it their endeavor to imitate them. He does not say, however, that he glories in their faith and love, but in their patience and faith. Hence it follows, that patience is the fruit and evidence of faith. These words ought, therefore, to be explained in this manner: — “We glory in the patience which springs from faith, and we bear witness that it eminently shines forth in you;” otherwise the context would not correspond. And, undoubtedly, there is nothing that sustains us in tribulations as faith does; which is sufficiently manifest from this, that we altogether sink down so soon as the promises of God leave us. Hence, the more proficiency any one makes in faith, he will be so much the more endued with patience for enduring all things with fortitude, as on the other hand, softness and impatience under adversity betoken unbelief on our part; but more especially when persecutions are to be endured for the gospel, the influence of faith in that case discovers itself.
5 A demonstration of the righteous judgment of God. Without mentioning the exposition given by others, I am of opinion that the true meaning is this — that the injuries and persecutions which innocent and pious persons endure from the wicked and abandoned, shew clearly, as in a mirror, that God will one day be the judge of the world. And this statement is quite at antipodes with that profane notion, which we are accustomed to entertain, whenever it goes well with the good and ill with the wicked. For we think that the world is under the regulation of mere chance, and we leave God no control. Hence it is that impiety and contempt take possession of men’s hearts, as Solomon speaks, (Ec 9:3) for those that suffer anything undeservedly either throw the blame upon God, or do not think that he concerns himself as to the affairs of men. We hear what Ovid says, — “I am tempted to think that there are no gods.” 626 Nay more, David confesses (Ps 73:1-12) that, because he saw things in so confused a state in the world, he had well-nigh lost his footing, as in a slippery place. On the other hand, the wicked become more insolent through occasion of prosperity, as if no punishment of their crimes awaited them; just as Dionysius, when making a prosperous voyage, 627 boasted that the gods favored the sacrilegious. 628 In fine, when we see that the cruelty of the wicked against the innocent walks abroad with impunity, carnal sense concludes that there is no judgment of God, that there are no punishments of the wicked, that there is no reward of righteousness.
Paul, however, declares on the other hand, that as God thus spares the wicked for a time, and winks at the injuries inflicted upon his people, His judgment to come is shewn us as in a mirror. For he takes for granted that it cannot but be that God, inasmuch as he is a just Judge, will one day restore peace to the miserable, who are now unjustly harassed, and will pay to the oppressors of the pious the reward that they have merited. Hence, if we hold this principle of faith, that God is the just Judge of the world, and that it is his office to render to every one a recompense according to his works, this second principle will follow incontrovertibly — that the present disorderly state of matters (ἀταξίαν) is a demonstration of the judgment, which does not yet appear. For if God is the righteous Judge of the world, those things that are now confused must, of necessity, be restored to order. Now, nothing is more disorderly than that the wicked, with impunity, give molestation to the good, and walk abroad with unbridled violence, while the good are cruelly harassed without any fault on their part. From this it may be readily inferred, that God will one day ascend the judgment-seat, that he may remedy the state of matters in the world, so as to bring them into a better condition.
Hence the statement which he subjoins — that it is righteous with God to appoint affliction, etc., is the groundwork of this doctrine — that God furnishes tokens of a judgment to come when he refrains, for the present, from exercising the office of judge. And unquestionably, if matters were now arranged in a tolerable way, so that the judgment of God might be recognized as having been fully exercised, an adjustment of this nature would detain us upon earth. Hence God, in order that he may stir us up to the hope of a judgment to come, does, for the present, only to some extent judge the world. He furnishes, it is true, many tokens of his judgment, but it is in such a manner as to constrain us to extend our hope farther. A remarkable passage truly, as teaching us in what manner our minds ought to be raised up above all the impediments of the world, whenever we suffer any adversity — that the righteous judgment of God may present itself to our mind, which will raise us above this world. Thus death will be an image of life.
May be accounted worthy. There are no persecutions that are to be reckoned of such value as to make us worthy of the kingdom of God, nor does Paul dispute here as to the ground of worthiness, but simply takes the common doctrine of Scripture — that God destroys in us those things that are of the world, that he may restore in us a better life; and farther, that by means of afflictions he shews us the value of eternal life. In short, he simply points out the manner in which believers are prepared and, as it were, polished under God’s anvil, inasmuch as, by afflictions, they are taught to renounce the world and to aim at God’s heavenly kingdom. Farther, they are confirmed in the hope of eternal life while they fight for it. For this is the entrance of which Christ discoursed to his disciples. (Mt 7:13; Lu 13:24)
6 To appoint affliction. We have already stated why it is that he makes mention of the vengeance of God against the wicked — that we may learn to rest in the expectation of a judgment to come, because God does not as yet avenge the wicked, while it is, nevertheless, necessary that they should suffer the punishment of their crimes. Believers, however, at the same time, understand by this that there is no reason why they should envy the momentary and evanescent felicity of the wicked, which will ere long be exchanged for a dreadful destruction. What he adds as to the rest of the pious, accords with the statement of Paul, (Ac 3:20,) where he calls the day of the last judgment the day of refreshing
In this declaration, however, as to the good and the bad, he designed to shew more clearly how unjust and confused the government of the world would be, if God did not defer punishments and rewards till another judgment, for in this way the name of God were a thing that was dead. 629 Hence he is deprived of his office and power by all that are not intent on that righteousness of which Paul speaks.
He adds with us, that he may gain credit to his doctrine from his experience of belief in his own mind; for he shews that he does not philosophize as to things unknown, by putting himself into the same condition, and into the same rank with them. We know, however, how much more authority is due to those who have, by long practice, been exercised in those things which they teach, and do not require from others anything but what they are themselves prepared to do. Paul, therefore, does not, while himself in the shade, give instructions to the Thessalonians as to how they should fight in the heat of the sun, but, fighting vigorously, exhorts them to the same warfare. 630
2 Thessalonians 1:7-10
7. When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,
7. Quum manifestabitur Dominus Iesus e coelo cum angelis potentiae suae,
8. In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:
8. In igne flammanti, qui ultionem infliget iis, qui non noverunt Deum, et non obediunt evangelio Domini nostri Iesu Christi:
9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
9. Qui poenam dabunt interitum aeternum a facie Domini, et a gloria potentiae ipsius,
10. When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.
10. Quum venerit ut sanctificetur in sanctis suis, et admirabilis reddatur in omnibus, qui credunt (quia fides habita sit testimonio nostro erga vos) in illa die.
7 When the Lord shall be manifested. Here we have a confirmation of the foregoing statement. For as it is one of the articles of our faith, that Christ will come from heaven, and will not come in vain, faith ought to seek the end of his coming. Now this is — that he may come as a Redeemer to his own people; nay more, that he may judge the whole world. The description which follows has a view to this — that the pious may understand that God is so much the more concerned as to their afflictions in proportion to the dreadfulness of the judgment that awaits his enemies. For the chief occasion of grief and distress is this — that we think that God is but lightly affected with our calamities. We see into what complaints David from time to time breaks forth, while he is consumed by the pride and insolence of his enemies. Hence he has brought forward all this for the consolation of believers, while he represents the tribunal of Christ as full of horror, 631 that they may not be disheartened by their present oppressed condition, while they see themselves proudly and disdainfully trampled upon by the wicked.
What is to be the nature of that fire, and of what materials, I leave to the disputations of persons of foolish curiosity. I am contented with holding what Paul had it in view to teach — that Christ will be a most strict avenger of the injuries which the wicked inflict upon us. The metaphor, however, of flame and fire, is abundantly common in Scripture, when the anger of God is treated of.
By the angels of his power, he means those in whom he will exercise his power; for he will bring the angels with him for the purpose of displaying the glory of his kingdom. Hence, too, they are elsewhere called the angels of his majesty
8 Who will inflict vengeance. That he may the better persuade believers that the persecutions which they endure will not go unpunished, he teaches that this also involves the interests of God himself, inasmuch as the same persons that persecute the pious are guilty of rebellion against God. Hence it is necessary that God should inflict vengeance upon them not merely with a view to our salvation, but also for the sake of his own glory. Farther, this expression, who will inflict vengeance, relates to Christ, for Paul intimates that this office is assigned to him by God the Father. It may be asked, however, whether it is lawful for us to desire vengeance, for Paul promises it, as though it could be lawfully desired. I answer, that it is not lawful to desire vengeance upon any one, inasmuch as we are commanded to wish well to all. Besides, although we may in a general way desire vengeance upon the wicked, yet, as we do not as yet discriminate them, we ought to desire the welfare of all. In the mean time, the ruin of the wicked may be lawfully looked forward to with desire, provided there reigns in our hearts a pure and duly regulated zeal for God, and there is no feeling of inordinate desire.
Who know not. He distinguishes unbelievers by these two marks — that they know not God, and obey not the gospel of Christ. For if obedience is not rendered to the gospel through faith, as he teaches in the first and in the last chapters of the Epistle to the Romans, [Rom. 1:18, Rom. 16:17,] unbelief is the occasion of resistance to it. He charges them at the same time with ignorance of God, for a lively acquaintance with God produces of itself reverence towards him. Hence unbelief is always blind, not as though unbelievers were altogether devoid of light and intelligence, but because they have the understanding darkened in such a manner, that seeing they do not see. (Mt 13:13.) It is not without good grounds that Christ declares that this is life eternal, to know the true God, etc. (Joh 17:3.) Accordingly, from the want of this salutary knowledge, there follows contempt of God, and in fine, death. On this point I have treated more fully in commenting on the first chapter of First Corinthians. 632
9. Everlasting destruction from the face. He shews, by apposition, what is the nature of the punishment of which he had made mention — destruction without end, and an undying death. The perpetuity of the death is proved from the circumstance, that it has the glory of Christ as its opposite. Now, this is eternal, and has no end. Accordingly, the influence of that death will never cease. From this also the dreadful severity of the punishment may be inferred, inasmuch as it will be great in proportion to the glory and majesty of Christ.
10 When he shall come to be sanctified. As he has hitherto discoursed as to the punishment of the wicked, he now returns to the pious, and says that Christ will come, that he may be glorified in them; that is, that he may irradiate them with his glory, and that they may be partakers of it. “Christ will not have this glory for himself individually; but it will be common to all the saints.” This is the crowning and choice consolation of the pious, that when the Son of God will be manifested in the glory of his kingdom, he will gather them into the same fellowship with himself. 633 There is, however, an implied contrast between the present condition in which believers labor and groan, and that final restoration. For they are now exposed to the reproaches of the world, and are looked upon as vile and worthless; but then they will be precious, and full of dignity, when Christ will pour forth his glory upon them. The end of this is, that the pious may as it were, with closed eyes, pursue the brief journey of this earthly life, having their minds always intent upon the future manifestation of Christ’s kingdom. For to what purpose does he make mention of His coming in power, but in order that they may in hope leap forward to that blessed resurrection which is as yet hid?
It is also to be observed, that after having made use of the term saints, he adds, by way of explanation — those that believe, by which he intimates that there is no holiness in men without faith, but that all are profane. In the close he again repeats the terms — in that day, for that expression is connected with this sentence. Now, he repeats it with this view, that he may repress the desires of believers, lest they should hasten forward beyond due bounds.
Because credit was given What he had said in a general way as to saints, he now applies to the Thessalonians, that they may not doubt that they are of that number.
“Because,” says he, “my preaching has obtained credit among you, Christ has already enrolled you in the number of his own people, whom he will make partakers of his glory.”
He calls his doctrine a testimony, because the Apostles are Christ’s witnesses. (Ac 1:8.) Let us learn, therefore, that the promises of God are ratified in us, when they gain credit with us.
2 Thessalonians 1:11-12
11. Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power:
11. In quam rem etiam oramus semper pro vobis: ut vos habeat dignos vocatione Deus noster, et impleat omne beneplacitum bonitatis, et opus fidei cum potentia 634
12. That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.
12. Quo glorificetur nomen Domini nostri Iesu Christi in vobis, et vos in ipso, secundum gratiam Dei nostri, et Domini Iesu Christi.
11 On which account we pray always. That they may know that they need continual help from God, he declares that he prays in their behalf. When he says on this account, he means, in order that they may reach that final goal of their course, as appears from the succeeding context, that he would fulfill all the good pleasure, etc. It may seem, however, as if what he has mentioned first were unnecessary, for God had already accounted them worthy of his calling. He speaks, however, as to the end or completion, which depends on perseverance. For as we are liable to give way, our calling would not fail, so far as we are concerned, to prove sooner or later vain, if God did not confirm it. Hence he is said to account us worthy, when he conducts us to the point at which we aimed.
And fulfill. Paul goes to an amazing height in extolling the grace of God, for not contenting himself with the term good pleasure, he says that it flows from his goodness, unless perhaps any one should prefer to consider the beneficence 635 as arising from this good pleasure, which amounts to the same thing. When, however, we are instructed that the gracious purpose of God is the cause of our salvation, and that that has its foundation in the goodness of the same God, are we not worse than mad, if we venture to ascribe anything, however small, to our own merits? For the words are in no small degree emphatic. He might have said in one word, that your faith may be fulfilled, but he terms it good pleasure. Farther, he expresses the idea still more distinctly by saying, that God was prompted by nothing else than his own goodness, for he finds nothing in us but misery.
Nor does Paul ascribe to the grace of God merely the beginning of our salvation, but all departments of it. Thus that contrivance of the Sophists is set aside, that we are, indeed, anticipated by the grace of God, but that it is helped by subsequent merits. Paul, on the other hand, recognizes in the whole progress of our salvation nothing but the pure grace of God. As, however, the good pleasure of God has been already accomplished in him, referring in the term subsequently employed by him to the effect which appears in us, he explains his meaning when he says — and work of faith. And he calls it a work, with regard to God, who works or produces faith in us, as though he had said — “that he may complete the building of faith which he has begun.”
It is, also, not without good reason, that he says with power, for he intimates that the perfecting of faith is an arduous matter, and one of the greatest difficulty. This, also, we know but too well from experience; and the reason, too, is not far to seek, if we consider how great our weakness is, how various are the hindrances that obstruct us on every side, and how severe are the assaults of Satan. Hence, unless the power of God afford us help in no ordinary degree, faith will never rise to its full height. For it is no easier task to bring faith to perfection in an individual, than to rear upon water a tower that may by its firmness withstand all storms and fury of tempests, and may surmount the clouds in height, for we are not less fluid than water, and it is necessary that the height of faith reach as high as heaven.
12 That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified. He calls us back to the chief end of our whole life — that we may promote the Lord’s glory. What he adds, however, is more especially worthy of notice, that those who have advanced the glory of Christ will also in their turn be glorified in him. For in this, first of all, the wonderful goodness of God shines forth — that he will have his glory be conspicuous in us who are covered over with ignominy. This, however, is a twofold miracle, that he afterwards irradiates us with his glory, as though he would do the same to us in return. On this account he adds, according to the grace of God and Christ. For there is nothing here that is ours either in the action itself, or in the effect or fruit, for it is solely by the guidance of the Holy Spirit that our life is made to contribute to the glory of God. And the circumstance that so much fruit arises from this ought to be ascribed to the great mercy of God. In the mean time, if we are not worse than stupid, we must aim with all our might at the advancement of the glory of Christ, which is connected with ours. I deem it unnecessary to explain at present in what sense he represents the glory as belonging to God and Christ in common, as I have explained this elsewhere.
“Solicitor nullos esse putare deos.” — Ovid in. Am. 9:36. In order to see the appropriateness of the quotation, it is necessary to notice the connection of the words “Cum rapiant mala fata bonos.... Solicitor,” etc.; — “When misfortunes overtake the good, I am tempted,” etc. — Ed.
“Comme Denys le tyran, apres auoir pillé vn temple, s’estant mis sur le mer, et voyant qu’il auoit bon vent;” — “As Dionysius the tyrant, after he had plundered a temple, having embarked upon the sea, and observing that he had a favorable wind.”
Our author alludes to a saying of Dionysius the younger, tyrant of Sicily, on occasion of his plundering the temple of Proserpine. See Calvin on the Psalms, vol. 1, p. 141, vol. 3, p. 126, and vol. 5, p. 114.—Ed.
“Morte et sans vertu;” — “Dead and powerless.”
“S. Paul, donc, enseignant les Thessaloniciens comment ils doyuent combattre au milieu des afflictions, ne parle point comme vn gendarme qui estant en l’ombre et a son aise, accourageroit les autres a faire leur deuoir a la campagne au milieu de la poussiere et a la chaleur du soleil: mais combattant luy—mesme vaillamment, il les exhorte a combattre de mesme;” — “St Paul, therefore, instructing the Thessalonians how they ought to fight in the midst of afflictions, does not speak like a soldier who, while in the shade and at his ease, would encourage others to do their duty in the campaign in the midst of dust, and in the heat of the sun; but, while fighting himself valiantly, he exhorts them to contend in like manner.”
“Plein d’horreur et d’espouvantement;” —”Full of horror and terror.”
See Calvin on the Corinthians, vol. 1, pp. 84-86.
“Il les recueillera en plene conionction, et les fera ses consors;” — “He will gather them in full union, and will make them his partners.”
“Auec puissance, ou puissamment;” — “With power, or powerfully.”
“Ceste bonté et beneficence;” — “This goodness and beneficence.”