"And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Judging from the interpretation given to the above Scripture by some of the brethren, it is quite evident to us that they either do not read the connections or having done so utterly disregard them. Where this practice is followed the Scriptures can be made to mean whatever the one using them may choose. A reportedly very popular and famous New York City Air Minister almost invariably quotes from Revelation 3:20 in his "Call to worship," as follows: "Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in." He apparently interprets this to mean that God is knocking at the door of every human heart, and if they will but hear and open the door, he will enter and save them. This places Salvation, as we see it, upon the acts of the creature. We are confident our brethren will not accept any such conclusion. Nevertheless, the quotation, what there is of it, is correct. It is only when we see that it is addressed to the Laodicean Church that it is correctly understood. Old School Baptists of all people should be careful not to lift the Scriptures out of their proper setting, or take them separate and apart from their connections, or half or misquote them, and thereby give a meaning entirely foreign to what the context warrants.
The question which Jesus asked his disciples in his memorable sermon on the Mount is, we believe, apropos and applicable here. Jesus asked, "Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?" Mat. 7:16. From this we would learn that if we would gather figs we should go to the fig tree, and if we would gather grapes we should go to the vine. We know in our practical every day life that we do not go to the peach tree to get apples, or vice versa, and, therefore, if we are to correctly understand the apostle's meaning when he said, "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ," (1st Thes. 5:23) we should consider the nature of the things which surround it; what the apostle had been talking about prior to and immediately after this petition on behalf of his brethren. He does not dwell upon a certain matter and all of a sudden inject something else entirely foreign or extraneous to what is under consideration, without a proper pause or break to separate and distinguish between them.
In this fifth chapter particularly of 1 Thessalonians, after reminding them that "the day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night," the apostle says, "Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness". "For they that sleep sleep in the night; and they that be drunken are drunken in the night. But let us, who are of the day, be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love; and for an helmet, the hope of salvation. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ." He then proceeds to instruct them how they should look after their ministering gifts by saying, "And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labor among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. And be at peace among yourselves". He then exhorts those who minister by saying, "Brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men. See that none render evil for evil unto any man; but ever follow that which is good, both among yourselves, and to all men." Then he takes the trouble to enumerate seven definite and distinct things which they should do: namely, (1) "Rejoice evermore." A large volume, indeed, could be written on the reasons why the children of light should rejoice for-evermore; (2) "Pray without ceasing." It is written "That men ought always to pray," and we are persuaded that every true subject of divine grace who is really acutely alive to his own condition and need feels to pray constantly; (3) "In everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you." Give thanks for all things, both spiritual and temporal, for "Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." Jas. 1:17. We should give thanks for the day of adversity as well as the day of prosperity, for both alike cometh according to the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning us, and they will most certainly work together for our ultimate good. To do this one of necessity must needs have faith, which is the gift of God. With this faith one can even glory in tribulations, for faith penetrates through and beyond the things which are seen, which are contrary, and believes as did the apostle when he said, "Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope: And hope maketh not ashamed; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Ghost which is given unto us." Rom. 5:1-5. (4) "Quench not the Spirit." In other words, cease not to speak of the goodness of God and his mercy, which endureth for ever; and continue to manifest the fruits and graces of the Spirit of Christ, such as love, compassion, tenderness, sympathy and forgiveness towards the poor and needy, against which there is no law; (5) "Despise not prophesyings." Be not prejudiced against any who are called and qualified by God to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord and to preach the unsearchable riches of God, through Christ Jesus our Lord, and be not as some who have their favorite preachers and will not even go to hear others; (6) "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good." Accept nothing from any man, even your own pastor or favorite preacher, simply because he says it, but test it by the word of God, and when he speaks not according to that word, receive it not, and neither bid him godspeed; neither follow him in anything beyond what he follows Christ. And once it has been proven and found to be good, hold fast to it, regardless of who the man may be who would dissuade you or dare to oppose it, always, of course, in the Spirit of the Lord; (7) "Abstain from all appearance of evil." Surely, there is no one who will deny that these things pertain to this life, and immediately following this is to be found the text. Having dwelt upon the fact that his brethren were children of light, and having admonished them as to how they should live and conduct themselves in order to adorn the profession of their faith in God here in this world, the apostle does not in the very same breath, or line, jump to something entirely foreign to it, but being well acquainted with their weaknesses and their inability to perform that which is good, he calls upon the God of peace to sanctify them wholly, or set them apart completely unto these things. Like Jude, in writing to his beloved brethren, who were to earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints, in opposition to ungodly men, after saying, "Keep yourselves in the love of God," and at the same time knowing it was an utter impossibility, in and of themselves, for them to do so, he turns away from them and says, "Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, To the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen." Paul, therefore, followed up his admonition to "Abstain from all appearance of evil," with the language of our text: "And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly; and I pray God your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." He would have them remain faithful unto death. Nothing is said here as to how or when Jesus would come, except in the first part of the chapter, where it says, "The day of the Lord so cometh as a thief in the night," but the apostle prays that "your whole spirit and soul and body be preserved blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ." Preserve means, "To keep in safety; protect from harm," and this is what the apostle is praying for on their account and in their behalf, and this means here in this world, or time state. We are persuaded that when our earthly race is run and we are ready to quit the walks of men that Jesus, our Glorious Head of grace, will come for each and every one of his people and will pilot them across that Great Divide, and that not an hoof shall be left behind. The record says, "The Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." The apostle concludes this thought by saying, "Wherefore comfort one another with these words." Like the thief on the cross who had been dead in Christ, or dead to all knowledge of Christ as the Saviour of sinners (nevertheless chosen in him from before the foundation of the world) until practically his very last moment on earth, when Christ was revealed in him the hope of glory, he cries, "Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom," and in answer thereto receives that most joyful of all news, "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." Whatever Jesus may or may not have meant, according to Luke, he most certainly did not say, "Today thy soul or thy spirit shall be with my soul or my spirit in some far off intermediary place, until the General Resurrection Day, when thy body will be raised and thy spirit come from paradise, be reunited and then go on to heaven." What Jesus did say was, "To-day shalt thou be with me in paradise." We have long since believed that many are called, but few are chosen; that is to say that only a few, comparatively speaking, of the Lord's people are regenerated and brought out to testify here in time as witnesses before men to give glory to God, but even those who so far as we can know here are dead to all knowledge of the truth, we have comfort in the assurance which God's word gives that the foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his. Those who are dead in Christ must first be quickened, regenerated and made alive before they are to be caught up together with those who are alive and remain to meet the Lord in the air, and then shall we all be forever with the Lord. Jesus said to Martha, "he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die." This transition or change can take place in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye. Let us emphasize the words of Jesus to the thief on the cross by repeating them. He said, "To-day (not to-morrow or a million years hence, but to-day) shalt thou be with me in paradise." We believe that herein is to be found untold comfort and consolation for God's people, not only in these most distressing times but in all others, whether in the past or the future, for they can be assured that their loved ones and friends, as well as untold millions of the redeemed of the Lord, of whom they know nothing, shall never stray beyond the pale of their heavenly Father's care, neither will God ever be too late or too far off to save his own. And although they may have never given any inkling of having known the Lord in the pardon or forgiveness of their sins, yet they are safe in the arms of their Beloved. This change can take place with a loving companion upon the death bed, and we may never know of it; it can take place with a darling son as he comes down out of the air to the earth for the last time upon the field of battle; it can take place with a precious daughter as she sails on a mission of mercy across an ocean infested with submarines that torpedo, set afire and sink the vessel upon which she travels; it can take place with the unborn babe, as it did with John the Baptist, and the centenarian is none too old, for our God is not confined to conditions, time or place. He is not only Omnipotent and Omniscient, but Omnipresent as well, and it should be enough for us to know that all we are and have is in the hands of him with whom we have to do. This is the comfort wherewith we, ourself, are comforted of God and we can wholeheartedly join the apostle in saying, "Wherefore comfort one another with these words." It is here in this life that we need to be comforted and need to comfort one another with the same comfort wherewith we, ourselves, are comforted of God. There will be no need of comfort in that world which is beyond this vale of tears, for nothing can enter there to molest our undisturbed repose.
R. Lester Dodson
The Resurrection of the Dead
Pages 29 - 35