‘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 Thessalonians 2:13).
WHEN TRAVELLING through popish countries, where the people bow down to images of wood and stone, and where God’s Word is forbidden, the mind of a believer turns to the fearful words in the preceding verses with a feeling of unutterable sadness; and, again, when the mind wanders from these desolate regions to the little flock of dear believers in happy Scotland, it realizes something of the joyful feeling with which Paul wrote these words—’But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord’ (verse 13).
1. We are here taught that God is sovereign in choosing the souls that are saved.
(i) He is sovereign in choosing men, and not rebel angels. We read in the Bible of two grand apostacies from God. The first took place in heaven. Lucifer, son of the morning, one of the brightest cherubs that stood round the throne, rebelled through pride along with myriads of the holy angels. ‘They kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation.’ ‘God spared them not, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment’ (2 Peter 2:4). The next rebellion was in paradise. Man believed Satan rather than God, and ate of the forbidden fruit. ‘By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.’ Both of these families sinned against the same God, broke the same holy law, fell under the same curse, and were condemned to the same fire. Now it pleased God, in infinite compassion, to provide a way of pardon for some of these lost creatures. He determined to save some ‘to the praise of the glory of his grace’. But whom shall he save—men or rebel angels? Perhaps the unfallen hosts of heaven pleaded that their once brother angels should be taken, and men left. They might have said that the angelic nature was higher and nobler, that man was a worm. ‘O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!’ He spared not the angels. He passed by the gate of hell He raised no cross of Calvary there. ‘He took not on him the nature of angels; but he took on him the seed of Abraham’ (Hebrews 2:16).
(ii) He is sovereign in choosing the countries that have thee light of the gospel. All nations are equally lost, and vile in the sight of God. ‘He hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth.’ And yet how differently has He dealt with different peoples. Why did God choose Israel to be a peculiar treasure to Himself, and to have the oracles of God committed to them? Was it because they were more righteous than others. No; that is expressly denied: ‘Understand, therefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land to possess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people’ (Deuteronomy 9:6). Neither was it on account of their greatness: ‘The Lord did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people; but because he loved you’ (Deuteronomy 7:7). Again, why has China, with its teeming millions, been walled around for centuries, and left to the darkness of its vain idols? Why has India been left under the cruel chains of Hindooism? Why has Africa been almost given over to witchcraft and superstition? Why has the fair face of Europe been almost given over to the delusions of the man of sin; and why has our own bleak island been chosen to be so long the brightest repository of the truth in all the world? Are we better than they? No, in nowise. There are sins committed among us that would make the heathen blush. ‘His way is in the sea.’ ‘He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy; and he hath compassion upon whom he will have compassion.’
(iii) He is sovereign in choosing the most unlikely persons to be saved. You would have expected that most of the rich would have been saved. They have most time to study divine things; they are not harassed by the fears of poverty; they can procure all advantages. And yet hear the Word of God: ‘Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom’ (James 2:5). Again, you would have thought God would have chosen the wise and learned, to be saved. The gospel is a subject of deep wisdom. The Bible is written in ancient languages, hard to be acquired. And educated men are generally free from prejudices, to which the common people are subject. And yet hear the word of our Lord: ‘I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.’ You would have thought that surely God will save the most virtuous people of the world. He is a God of purity, who loves what is holy; and though none are righteous, no, not one, yet some are much less stained with sin than others. Surely He will take these. What says the Lord Jesus to the Pharisees? ‘The publicans and harlots do enter into heaven before you.’ The blameless young ruler is left to go away sorrowful, whilst the King of glory enters in at the pearly gate of the New Jerusalem with a thief washed in His blood by His side.
If my soul is saved, am I not bound to give thanks? If ministers are bound to thank God for the free salvation of their people, how much more are we bound to praise Him ourselves for saving us. I am no better than a rebel angel. Devils never rejected Christ as I have done, and yet He passed them by and saved me. I am no better than a Chinese or a Hindoo, and yet grace has passed millions of them, and come to me. I was no better than the sinners round me, perhaps worse than most, and yet I trust I can say, ‘Thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell’. Glory to God the Father, that He chose me before the world was. Glory to Jesus, that He passed by millions and died for me. Glory to the Holy Spirit, that He came out of free love and awakened me.
2. We are here taught that God chooses the means as well as the end. ‘He hath chosen us unto salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.’ The first step that God chooses His people to come to, is ‘belief of the truth’. God does not choose men to leap from their sins into glory. But He sends the free Spirit to anoint their eyes, to melt their hearts, to persuade and enable them to embrace Christ freely offered in the gospel. A simple heart-felt belief of the truth, is the first mark that we have been chosen to salvation. ‘All that the Father giveth me, shall come to me.’ Have I come to Jesus? Then I know that I am one of those whom the Father gave to Him before the world was. Do I really believe the truth as it is in Jesus? Then God has chosen me to salvation. The second step that God chooses His people to come to, is ‘sanctification of the Spirit’. It is written, ‘After that ye believed, ye were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise’ (Ephesians 1:13). The moment the soul cleaves to the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit takes up His abode in that bosom; He abides there for ever. He changes the cage of unclean birds into a temple for Jehovah’s praise. He makes the soul all glorious within. He destroys the dominion of sin; He fills, quickens, renews the whole inner man. Have I received the Holy Ghost? Has that heavenly seal been applied to my heart, impressing upon me the features and the mind of Jesus? Have I the sanctification of the Spirit? Then I have the clear evidence that my calling and election are sure. I can look back to my election before the world was; and forward to my salvation when the world shall be passed away. How foolish is the presumption of those who say, ‘If I am not elected, I cannot be saved, whatever I do; and if I am elect, I shall be saved in whatever way I live’. The simple answer is this, Whether you are elect or not, you cannot be saved without believing the truth, and being sanctified by the Spirit. What is written in the Lamb’s book of life, I do not know; but what is written in the holy Bible, I do know, that ‘he that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned’. And ‘without holiness, no man can see the Lord’.