The Secret of the Thessalonians

In any study of “end times”, it is important to put “first things first”.  Being a “prophecy expert” is one thing, but without the proper framework and an intelligent understanding of the word of God rightly divided, you may attract a lot of attention, but it is not edifying to the saints.  In the following from “The Church Epistles” by Dr. E.W. Bullinger, our author points out the first things that need to be kept in mind when looking to the future.  Over the last few months, I have become quite fond of some of Dr. Bullinger’s work, and this is one of my favorites.

As many may know, in his later years he came to adopt an “Acts 28” dispensationalism, which takes the position that only the “prison epistles” that Paul wrote after the close of the history recorded in the book of Acts are fully applicable to the Body of Christ.  I believe that he erred in taking this position, and his earlier position of the unity of Paul’s epistles was much more consistent with the word of God.  Many fundamentalists, however, tried to stay so far away from any association with his teachings that they had to take other positions that are also not consistent with the word of God.

I have found this section from Dr. Bullinger’s synopsis on Paul’s epistles to churches to be a gem, so I thought to share it on this site.  More information on this teacher of the Word can be found at these sites:

It is always important to check all of those we learn from against the word of God, and at all times to check our own understanding to see if we are consistent with Scripture.

Without any further delay, here is an excerpt from his writing on the epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Thessalonian church.  I hope that you all enjoy it!


E.W._Bullinger

But not only is “the Church of the Thessalonians” a model church in this respect; it is a model also in that it was most remarkable for its missionary activity. Sound doctrine produced fruitful service for God .

From this assembly in Thessalonica sounded forth the word of God throughout Macedonia and Achaia (1 Thess. i. 8). A tract of country as large as Great Britain was evangelised by this little flock.  How they did it we do not know: for they had no railways, no printing-presses, no great missionary societies; but all we know is that in some way they sounded forth the word of God throughout that vast region.

And we know also that this is what other churches then and since have not been remarkable for, and for which they are not noted in our own day.

There must be therefore some cause for this great difference:  some secret, of which other churches were, and are not, possessed.

What that secret was we learn through a fact which is strongly emphasised. Three times the Apostle calls attention to it; and lays stress upon “the manner of his entering into, Thessalonica. In 1 Thess. i. 5, he says, “Ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake.” In verse 9, “They themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you.” And in chap. ii. 1, he says, “For yourselves know, brethren, that our entrance in unto you was not in vain.”

The question arises, What was there so peculiar or remarkable in that “manner”to which he thus three times so pointedly refers?  The answer is given in Acts xvii., where we have the historic record of his arrival at Thessalonica: and we read, “Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the Scriptures.”

How refreshing it is to read these simple words! Here was Thessalonica, a city of some 70,000 inhabitants, far worse than any city with which we are acquainted to-day.  The Gentiles sunk in all the awful abominations of heathen idolatry, and the Jews hating the very name of Christ, and persecuting the saints of God (2 Thess. ii. 14-16). Some were religious, some were profane; some were moral, some were vicious; but all alike were ignorant of Christ, and all alike sinners and transgressors before God. Yet the Apostle had no need of bands of music, sensational announcements, musical services, or solo singers; none of the tricks or contrivances of the present day; none of the modern methods or new fashions of the nineteenth century! Why? Because he had not lost faith in the power of God’s Word! And this, because he had not lost faith in its truth! He believed that the word of God was able to accomplish all God’s purposes of grace: that it must prosper in the thing whereto God sent it, and accomplish that which He pleases (Isa. lv. 11).

He believed that the Gospel was “the power of God unto salvation” and, therefore, needed no “handmaids” or “helpmeets.”  His one aim was not to “get the people in,” but to get the Word of God in, and leave that to work effectually by the Holy Ghost in the hearts of those whom He had gathered together by His almighty power.

We are already arriving at the secret of the vast difference between the purity, holiness, and zeal of that model church, which makes it stand out in such marked contrast with the corruption, error, and worldliness of modern churches. But there was more than this.

Not only did the apostle reason with them out of the written Word, but he preached the Living Word — the Lord Jesus Christ, “opening and alleging that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus whom I preach unto you is the Messiah” (verse 3). This, we learn from verse 7, meant that He was coming again, “another King.” Thus He proclaimed a complete Saviour: — a suffering Saviour, a risen Saviour, and a coming Saviour. In a word, he preached Christ to them, and did not separate Christ and the Scriptures. He had one Gospel. Not one for Gentile idolators and another for religious Jews; not one for “men” and another for “women only,” but a gospel for sinners. For all alike are under sin, whatever may be the natural privileges of birth or
education.

It is most important, in learning the secret which produced this model church, to note that the apostle did not go to Thessalonica with religious ordinances, ecclesiastical ceremonies, or sacraments:  not with plans for self-improvement, called “Christian science,” secular education, social reform, the sanitation of Thessalonica, or the “duties of citizenship .” He did not aim at making “reformed characters” but at converting sinners by the power of the Holy Ghost. Still less did he go to amuse the ungodly, or to provide entertainments for the goats. He went to seek out lost sinners, to lead them to the knowledge of the Saviour.

He laid his axe at the root of the tree. He planted the cross of Christ before them. He proved that they were lost, and needed a Saviour: and not that they could do something themselves, and needed only a helper. He taught them that Christ had died for His People and that they had died in Him (Romans); that Christ had risen again, and that they had risen in Him and were. “seated in the Heavenlies in Him” (Ephesians); that Christ was commg again, and they were coming with Him (Thessalonians). Hence their faith was in Christ; their love was rooted and grounded in Him; and their hope was anchored within the veil. All their Christian graces were in fullest exercise, and were all developed and increased in due proportion. The reason of the thanksgiving is given and shown by a comparison of 1 Thess. i. 3 with verses 9 and 10:—

Their ”work of faith” (verse 3) was seen in that they had “turned to God” from every idol (verse 9).

Their “labour of love” (verse 3) was seen in that they now served the living and true God (verse 9).

Their ”patience of hope” (verse 3) was seen in that they waited for God’s Son from heaven (v. 10).

Their Christian character was complete: and no Christian character can be complete unless these three Christian graces are present in due and proper proportion.

But the majority of Christians to-day are practically destitute of these three Christian graces. Their faith in the truth, of God’s Word is going, and therefore their faith in its power is waning.

Their love is not “the love of God shed abroad in the heart;” and therefore it is of self: and, not knowing the truth as to the members of the one body in Christ, love as expressed in true Christian charity is almost unknown, and though admired as ”the greatest thing in the world” is the least of all things in the Church.

And as to hope; well, the majority of Christians are waiting for many things which God has not given as objects of hope; while the one thing which He has definitely given as the object they not only are not waiting for themselves, but condemn those who are!

Some are waiting for death, which is not an object of hope, for people die without waiting for it.

Some are waiting for an outpouring of the Spirit of God, and not for the Son of God.

Some are waiting for the world to be converted, and not for it to be judged by the Son of Man at His coming.

Some are waiting for the return of God’s ancient People to their land, instead of the return of God’s Son to this world.

Some are waiting for the revelation of Antichrist, instead of the revelation of Christ.

While others tell us that the Lord’s coming was fulfilled at the destruction of Jerusalem, in spite of the fact here stated that these saints at Thessalonica were not waiting for Titus to come with his, armies from. Rome, but for God’s Son to come with His holy angels from heaven.

Some are content with Christ crucified; and, though knowing and rejoicing in the benefits of His death and passion, are ignorant of the truths connected with a Risen Christ, and our new resurrection life and walk in Him.

Still more ignorant are the great mass of Christians as to His coming again, and the fact that this is the great and “blessed hope” which is the portion of all who are in Christ.

So great and general is the ignorance that, when professing Christians boldly avow that they “take no interest in the coming of Christ,” they do not even know enough to see that they are exposing their ignorance as to their very standing, which God has given His people in Christ.

No wonder, then, that there is this difference between the Church of the Thessalonians and the churches of this day!

No wonder that, being ignorant of the great Mystery of the “one Body” in Christ, they are taken up with their own and other so-called “bodies,” and are striving in controversy about them, as the Corinthians.

No wonder that, having begun in the spirit they are seeking to be made perfect in the flesh, as the Galatians.

No wonder that, losing sight of the fact that the members are “all one in Christ Jesus,” they are not striving together for the truth of the Gospel with one mind and one spirit, but doing many things from “strife and vainglory,” as were the Philippians.

No wonder that, “not holding the head,” they are not increasing, “with the increase of God” and are “subject to ordinances … after the commandments and doctrines of men,” as were the Colossians.

Such was not the condition of the Church of the Thessalonians:  and the secret is laid open before our eyes.

This model Church— “the Church of the Thessalonians” — was now in a position to receive further detailed “doctrine” and “instruction” respecting the Lord’s coming again, as none of the other churches had been).

Not until we know subjectively all the blessings which God has given His People in Christ dead and risen again, in and with Him, and seated in the Heavenlies, not only in Christ personal, but in “the Christ” Mystical or “Spiritual,” can Christians be in a position to learn further details concerning His return from heaven.

True, they had been taught “to wait for God’s Son from heaven,” and they waited. That formed their character; that satisfied and increased their hope; that influenced their walk; that purified their life as nothing else in this world could do.

But note: all this was the action of the heart, not of the head; and by faith they reckoned themselves to have died with Christ, and risen to a walk in newness of life in Christ, and to be seated in heavenly places in Christ; hence their love was drawn out to Him who had done such great and wondrous things for them, while their hope was set upon Him (1 John iii. 3 R.V.), and they waited for God’s Son from heaven. This, therefore, was part of their standing as Christians. And this completeness of Christian character was the secret of their holiness of life and of their missionary activity.

The reason why we see so little of either in the present day is that Christian character is not thus complete, through ignorance of what the Holy Spirit has written for our instruction. And the sad result is, that false and vain methods are resorted to in order to procure both holiness of life and missionary zeal.

The new gospel of “consecration” and “surrender” has been vainly invented to supply one defect while all sorts of devices are resorted to in order to supply the other.

A missionary spirit is supposed to be produced by fictitious methods, by exhibiting to the eye in some of many ways the proportion of Christians to heathen; by working on the feelings and exciting compassion; “missionary missions”, and “missionary exhibitions” in which sometimes “living pictures” are introduced, and modest English girls are stared at while they are dressed up so as to represent an Eastern Zenana (otherwise known as a “Harem”!); these are among the modern inventions, the result of which ts supposed to create what is called a “missionary spirit”!

Not so was the missionary zeal of the Thessalonians produced.  Not in this way were they made to sound forth the word of God through Macedonia and Achaia. Not by sentiment, but by truth, was all their “labour of love” produced, by which they served the living and true God; and this was the spontaneous outcome of their complete Christian character, which no barriers could hinder, and no artificial devices create.

Some Christians already see these evils, and think the remedy is to be found in witnessing more faithfully to the neglected truth of the Lord’s second coming. But this is really only another attempt to remove the effects without touching the cause.

What is the cause of this truth being neglected? We reply, Ignorance as to the teaching which the Holy Spirit has given to us in the Church Epistles through Paul! Ignorance, therefore, as to our standing in Christ!

What is needed then is to return to ”the old paths” which have been forsaken; to study subjectively, and learn spiritually, and understand experimentally, the text-books of the Christian profession: to know first of all the Epistle to the Romans, to master the fundamental teaching of the first eight chapters, and to go on through the other Epistles.

What would be the result? Why, that holiness of life, and true missionary zeal, would be seen in blessed activity as the spontaneous outcome of true doctrine; and this without an effort, without aiming at it, without trying to be, or to do, or to accomplish this or that.

The walk would be holy, without vows and resolutions, an surrenderings and “re-consecrations;” and the service would be according to knowledge, and full of holy zeal, without the “urgent appeals” to the feelings or the pocket.

This, we repeat, was the position attained by this model church, as the irrepressible result of the Spirit’s teaching. To-day, Christians are seeking for the Spirit’s power and “enduement,” not knowing that it is not to be obtained in this way, or out of the Divine order in which alone it can come.

The first work of the Holy Spirit is declared to be, “He shall guide you unto all the truth.” And it is not until after this that the promise is given, “Ye shall be endued with Power from on high.”

Christians want to have the power without the truth; and in seeking for the one apart from the other, they lose both. Hence it is that we see to-day what we do see — confusion, darkness, and misdirected zeal, both in the teachers and the taught; for when the blind lead the blind, both fall into the ditch.

The Thessalonian saints had other teachers; and they had “not so learned Christ.”

They had “learned HIM:” and hence they waited for Him — a crucified, risen, and coming Saviour, because of all that that meant for Him and for them.

Now, therefore, the Holy Spirit can proceed to instruct them in further detail as to the coming of Him for whom they waited.


Bullinger, Ethelburt W. The Church Epistles: Romans to Thessalonians. Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1928.

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