IS MAN GOVERNED BY SENSE AND NATURAL INSTINCT?
OPENING STATEMENT by Robert
Man is here represented to us:
1. As a reasonable creature, that has the faculty of contriving for himself: His heart devises his way, designs an end, and projects ways and means leading to that end, which the inferior creatures, who are governed by sense and natural instinct, cannot do. The more shame for him if he do not devise the way how to please God and provide for his everlasting state
2. But as a depending creature, that is subject to the direction and dominion of his Maker. If men devise their way, to make God’s glory their end and his will their rule, they may expect that he will direct their steps by his Spirit and grace, so that they shall not miss their way nor come short of their end.
But let men devise their worldly affairs ever so politely, and with ever so great a probability of success, yet God has the ordering of the event, and sometimes directs their steps to that which they least intended.
The design of this is to teach us to say, If the Lord will, we shall live and do this or that (James 4:14, James 4:15), and to have our eye to God, not only in the great turns of our lives, but in every step we take. Lord, direct my way, 1 Thessalonians 3:11.
Paul, desired to be instrumental in the further benefit of the Thessalonians; and the only way to be so while at a distance was by prayer for them, together with his writing or sending to them.
He desired that their faith might be perfected, which he could not be the proper cause or author of; for he pretended not to dominion over their faith, nor to have the donation of it, and he therefore concludes with prayer for them.
Observe, I. Whom Paul prays to, namely, God and Christ. Prayer is a part of religious worship, and all religious worship is due unto God only. Prayer is here made to God, even the Father and our Father, and to Christ, even our Lord Yeshua (Jesus Christ). Therefore, Yeshua (Jesus Christ) our Lord is God, even as God our Father is God.
Prayer is to be offered to God as our Father. So, Christ taught his disciples to pray; and so, the Spirit of adoption prompts them to pray, to cry, Abba Father.
Prayer is not only to be offered in the name of Christ, but offered up to Christ himself, as our Lord and our Saviour. What Paul prays for, with respect to himself and his fellow-labourers, and on behalf of the Thessalonians
I. He prays that himself and fellow-labourers might have a prosperous journey to them by the will of God, that their way might be directed to them, 1 Thessalonians 3:11. The taking of a journey to this or that place, one would think, is a thing depending so much on a man’s own will, and lies so much in his own power, that Paul needed not by prayer to go to God about it.
But the apostle knew that in God we live, and move, and have our being, that we depend upon God in all our motions and actions, as well as for the continuance of life and being, that divine Providence orders all our affairs and that it is owing thereto if we prosper therein, that God our Father directs and orders his children whither they shall go and what they shall do, that our Lord Yeshua (Jesus Christ) in a particular manner directs the motions of his faithful ministers and disciples, those stars which he holds in his right hand. Let us acknowledge God in all our ways, and he will direct our paths.
II. He prays for the prosperity of the Thessalonians. Whether he should have an opportunity of coming to them or not, yet he earnestly prayed for the prosperity of their souls. And there are two things he desired for them, which we should desire for ourselves and friends: –
(1) That they might increase and abound in love (1 Thessalonians 3:12), in love to one another and in love to all men. Note, Mutual love is required of all Christians, and not only that they love one another, but that they also have a charitable disposition of mind and due concern for the welfare of all men. Love is of God and is the fulfilling of the gospel as well as of the law. Timothy brought good tidings of their faith, yet something was lacking therein; and of their charity, yet the apostle prays that this might increase and abound. Note, we have reason to desire to grow in every grace and have need of the Spirit’s influence in order to growth in grace; and the way to obtain this is by prayer. We are beholden to God not only for the stock put into our hands at first, but for the improvement of it also. And to our prayer we must add endeavour. To excite this in the Thessalonians the apostle again mentions his love, his abounding love, towards them. The more we are beloved, the more affectionate we should be
(2) That they might be established unblameable in holiness, 1 Thessalonians 3:13. This spiritual benefit is mentioned as an effect of increasing and abounding love: To the end that he (the Lord) may establish your hearts.
Note, the more we grow and abound in grace, and particularly in the grace of love, the more we are established and confirmed in it.
CLOSING COMMENTS by Robert
To establish the court of conscience, and to assert the authority of it: For, if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things, 1 John 3:20. Our heart here is our self-reflecting judicial power, that noble excellent ability whereby we can take cognizance of ourselves, of our spirits, our dispositions, and actions, and accordingly pass a judgment upon our state towards God; and so, it is the same with conscience, or the power of moral self-consciousness.
This power can act as witness, judge, and executioner of judgment; it either accuses or excuses, condemns or justifies; it is set and placed in this office by God himself: the spirit of man, thus capacitated and empowered, is the candle of the Lord, a luminary lighted and set up by the Lord, searching all the inward parts of the belly, taking into scrutiny and viewing the penetralia – the private recesses and secret transactions of the inner man, Proverbs 20:27.
Conscience is God’s administrative deputy, calls the court in his name, and acts for him. The answer of a good conscience towards God, 1 Peter 3:21. God is chief Judge of the court: If our heart condemn us God is greater than our heart, superior to our heart and conscience in power and judgment; hence the act and judgment of the court are the act and judgment of God.
1. If conscience condemn us, God does so too: For, if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things, 1 John 3:20. God is a greater witness than our conscience, and knoweth more against us than it does: he knoweth all things; he is a greater Judge than conscience; for, as he is supreme, so his judgment shall stand, and shall be fully and finally executed.
This seems to be the design of another apostle when he says, For I know nothing by myself, that is, in the case wherein I am censured by some, “I am not conscious of any guile, or allowed unfaithfulness, in my stewardship and ministry. Yet I am hereby justified; it is not by my own conscience that I must ultimately stand or fall; the justification or justifying sentence of my conscience, or self-consciousness, will not determine the controversy between you and me; as you do not appeal to its sentence, so neither will you be determined by its decision; but he that judges me (supremely and finally judges me), and by whose judgment you and I must be determined, is the Lord,” 1 Corinthians 4:4.
We must draw near to God, and that in a right manner. We must draw near to God. Since such a way of access and return to God is opened, it would be the greatest ingratitude and contempt of God and Christ still to keep at a distance from him.
We must draw close by conversion, and by taking hold of his covenant. We must draw near in all holy conversation, like Enoch walking with God.
We must draw near in humble adorations, worshipping at his footstool. We must draw near in holy dependence, and in a strict observance of the divine conduct towards them.
We must draw near in conformity to God, and communion with him, living under his blessed influence, still endeavoring to get nearer and nearer, till we come to dwell in his presence, but we must see to it that we make our approach to God after a right manner:
(1) With a true heart, without any allowed guile or hypocrisy. God is the searcher of hearts, and he requires truth in the inward parts. Sincerity is our gospel perfection, though not our justifying righteousness
(2) In full assurance of faith, with a faith grown up to a full persuasion that when we come to God by Christ, we shall have audience and acceptance. We should lay aside all sinful distrust. Without faith it is impossible to please God and the stronger our faith is the more glory we give to God.
(3) Having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, by a believing application of the blood of Christ to our souls. We may be cleansed from guilt, from filth, from sinful fear and torment, from all aversion to God and duty, from ignorance, and error, and superstition, and whatever evils the consciences of men are subject to by reason of sin
(4) Our bodies washed with pure water, that is, with the water of baptism (by which we are recorded among the disciples of Christ, members of his mystical body), or with the sanctifying virtue of the Holy Spirit, reforming and regulating our outward conversation as well as our inward frame, cleansing from the filthiness of the flesh as well as of the spirit. The priests under the law were to wash, before they went into the presence of the Lord to offer before him. There must be a due preparation for making our approaches to God.
We are called as believers to hold fast the profession of our faith, Hebrews 10:23. Here observe,
(1) The duty itself–to hold fast the profession of our faith, to embrace all the truths and ways of the gospel, to get fast hold of them, and to keep that hold against all temptation and opposition. Our spiritual enemies will do what they can to wrest our faith, and hope, and holiness, and comfort, out of our hands, but we must hold fast our religion as our best treasure
(2) The way we must do this–without wavering, without doubting, without disputing, without dallying with temptation to apostasy. Having once settled these great things between God and our souls, we must be steadfast and immovable. Those who begin to waver in matters of Christian faith and practice are in danger of falling away
(3) The motive or reason enforcing this duty: He is faithful that hath promised. God has made great and precious promises to believers, and he is a faithful God, true to his word there is no falseness nor fickleness with him, and there should be none with us. His faithfulness should excite and encourage us to be faithful, and we must depend more upon his promises to us than upon our promises to him, and we must plead with him the promise of grace suffice.
We have the means prescribed for preventing our apostasy, and promoting our fidelity and perseverance, Hebrews 10:24,25, &c. He mentions several as:
1. That we should consider one another, to provoke to love and to good works. Christians ought to have a tender consideration and concern for one another they should affectionately consider what their several wants, weaknesses, and temptations are and they should do this, not to reproach one another, to provoke one another not to anger, but to love and good works, calling upon themselves and one another to love God and Christ more, to love duty and holiness more, to love their brethren in Christ more, and to do all the good offices of Christian affection both to the bodies and the souls of each other. A good example given to others is the best and most effectual provocation to love and good works
2. Not to forsake the assembling of we together, Hebrews 10:25. It is the will of Christ that his disciples should assemble, sometimes more privately for conference and prayer, and in public for hearing and joining in all the ordinances of gospel worship.
There were in the apostles’ times, and should be in every age, Christian assemblies for the worship of God, and for mutual edification. And it seems even in those times there were some who forsook these assemblies, and so began to apostatize from religion itself. The communion of saints is a great help and privilege, and a good means of steadiness and perseverance hereby their hearts and hands are mutually strengthened
3. To exhort one another, to exhort ourselves and each other, to warn ourselves and one another of the sin and danger of backsliding, to put ourselves and our fellow-Christians in mind of our duty, of our failures and corruptions, to watch over one another, and be jealous of ourselves and one another with a godly jealousy. This, managed with a true gospel spirit, would be the best and most cordial friendship
4. That we should observe the approaching of times of trial, and be thereby quickened to greater diligence: So much the more, as you see the day approaching. Christians ought to observe the signs of the times, such as God has foretold.