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THE FIRST EPISTLE TO THE
is known to every reader of scripture, that the first epistle to the Thessalonians speaks of the coming of Christ in terms which indicate an expectation of his speedy appearance: “For this we say unto you by “ the word of the Lord, that we which are “ alive and remain unto the coming of the “ Lord shall not prevent them which are
asleep. For 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 66 first; then we which are alive and re“ main, shall be caught up together with them “ in the clouds—But ye, brethren, are not “ in darkness, that that day should overtake
you as a thief” (chap. iv. 15, 16, 17. chap. v. ver. 4).
Whatever other construction these texts may bear, the idea they leave upon the mind of an ordinary reader, is that of the author of the epistle looking for the day of judgement to take place in his own time, or near to it. Now the use which I make of this circumstance, is to deduce from it a proof that the epistle itself was not the production of a subsequent age. Wouid an impostor have given this expectation to St. Paul, after experience had proved it to be erroneous ? or would he have put into the apostle's mouth, or, which is the famething, into writings purporting to come from his hand, expressions, if not neceffarily conveying, at least easily interpreted to convey, an opinion which was then known to be founded in mistake? I state this as an argument to fhew that the epistle was contemporary with St. Paul, which is little less than to shew that it actually proceeded from his pen. For I question whether any ancient forgeries were executed in the life-time of the person whose name they bear; nor was the primitive situation of the church likely to give birth to such an attempt.
Our epistle concludes with a direction, that it should be publicly read in the church to which it was addressed : “ I charge you
- by the Lord, that this epistle be read “ unto all the holy brethren." The existence of this clause in the body of the epistle is an evidence of its authenticity; because to produce a letter purporting to have been publicly read in the church of Thessalonica, when no such letter in truth had been read or heard of in that church, would be to produce an imposture destructive of itself. At least, it seems unlikely that the author of an imposture would voluntarily, andeven officiously, afford a handle to so plain an objection. Either the epistle was publicly read in the church of Theffalonica during St. Paul's life-time, or it was not. If it was, no publication could be more authentic, no species of notoriety more unquestionable, no method of preserving the integrity of the copy more secure. If it was not, the clause we produce would re
main a standing condemnation of the forgery, and, one would suppose, an invincible impediment to its success. If we connect this article with the
preceding, we shall perceive that they combine into one strong proof of the genuineness of the epistle. The preceding article carries
up the date of the epistle to the time of St. Paul; the present article fixes the publication of it to the church of Thessalonica. Either therefore the church of Thefsalonica was imposed upon by a false epistle, which in St. Paul's life-time they received and read publicly as his, carrying on a communication with him all the while, and the epistle referring to the continuance of that communication; or other Christian churches in the same life-time of the apostle, received an epistle purporting to have been publicly read in the church of Thessalonica, which nevertheless had not been heard of in that church ; or lastly, the conclusion remains, that the epistle now, in our hands is genuine.
Between our epistle and the history the accordancy in many points is circumstantial and complete. The history relates, that, after Paul and Silas had been beaten with many stripes at Philippi, shut up in the inner prison, and their feet made fast in the stocks, as soon as they were discharged from their confinement they departed from thence, and, when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, came to Thesfalonica, where Paul opened and alledged that Jesus was the Christ, Acts xvi. 23,
&c. The epistle written in the name of Paul and Sylvanus (Silas), and of Timotheus, who also
appears to have been along with them at Philippi, (vide Phil. No.iv.) speaks to the church of Thessalonica thus: “ Even after " that we had suffered before, and were “ shamefully entreated, as ye know, at “ Philippi, we were bold in our God to
speak unto you the gospel of God with “ much contention,” (ii, 21).
The history relates, that after they had been some time at Thessalonica, “ the