1 Thessalonians 5:23
And the very God of peace sanctify you wholly…
1. Note the position of this prayer. It forms a conclusion, and this gives it a specific character.
(1) It is the natural close of the Epistle — an impressive course of precept and exhortation. Sanctification from all sins and also in its positive sense had been inculcated and prayed for, and now all previous petitions are gathered up into one.
(2) It is the close of the strain immediately preceding. As far back as ver. 15, we perceive the signs of strong emotion. Paul's exhortations become very bold, and each bears the burden of perfection. The grandeur of this introduction prepares us for the grandeur of the prayer. Precisely at the point when man's ambition to be perfect has been stimulated to the utmost, the transition is made from what we can do for ourselves to what God can do foe us.
2. The peculiarities of the prayer. It is marked off from the rest of Paul's prayers in that it has more of the temple spirit and phraseology. This suggests at once a comparison with our Lord's High Priestly consecration prayer (John 17). The Divine consecration separating believers from the world while keeping them blameless in it; having its end, on the one hand, in the unity of the mystical body in holiness, and on the other, the vision of Christ's glory at His coming; and brought to its perfection by the righteous or faithful God of the Christian vocation; these form a series of ideas common to Christ and Paul.
3. The expressions by which God is invoked in Paul's prayers are always great expository helps.
(1) "The God of peace" is the author of reconciliation accomplished through the atoning mediation of Christ, Those only can be sanctified who have entered into the enjoyment of the Divine favour. Peace begins the state of grace, pervades it, and is its perfection (Romans 5:1).
(2) "He that calleth" (ver. 24). Sometimes the calling refers to the past — at conversion: sometimes to the final issue; here, however, it is the continuous call between the two extremes — always to holiness. This name is a remembrancer, every time we hear it, of an abiding obligation on our part, and a constant will on the part of God.
(3) The third name is not mentioned but implied. God is the only sanctifier — the Father (John 17:17), the Son (Hebrews 2:11), the Holy Ghost (2 Thessalonians 2:13). Only a lax religious phraseology speaks of a man's consecrating himself. We have words for duty and virtue in every form, but this must be sanctified or set apart from our common use. Only One could say "I sanctify myself."
4. Entering the prayer itself we mark its great central idea, the entireness of personal sanctification: but to clear the way we must consider what is not meant, that in which all accepted believers are entirely sanctified.
(1) They are absolutely washed from the guilt of sin (Hebrews 10:22). In this sense sanctification and justification are one. The soul that is justified in the forum or court mediatorial is in the temple and before the altar sanctified, and completely (Hebrews 10:14).
(2) They are presented to God upon an altar which makes everything holy, and they are thus set apart to the Divine service. Now that must be absolute or nothing. The offering must be either on the altar or not on it. But the oblation has yet to go up to heaven in the consuming fire as a whole burnt offering.
(3) They are complete in Christ according to the foreknowledge of God (Romans 8:30; Hebrews 10:14; 1 Corinthians 1:30).
(4) These several views unite in the element of imputation. But the apostle's prayer uses a word which takes us into an altogether different region, "Faithful," etc. (ver. 24). He does not ask that God may count, but that God may make them holy. The entireness of sanctification is here expressed in two ways. It is —
I. A COMPLETE CONSECRATION OF THE WHOLE PERSON OR BEING OF THE CHRISTIAN.
1. Consider some objections arising out of the form and construction of the sentence. It has been said that the words are too rare and uncertain to admit of a doctrine so important being based upon them. But granted that they are unusual, they are chosen with extreme precision, and bear their sense in their very form. Passing by this, two other objections, based upon it, must be noticed.
(1) One takes the form of an honourable but unsound explanation which assumes that "wholly" refers to the Thessalonian Church, and "blameless" to individual members. But there is no instance of any particular community being regarded as capable of entire sanctification. That blessedness is the prerogative of the Christian or the whole mystical body of Christ.
(2) The other less-worthy subterfuge asserts that the plain meaning of the terms must not be unduly pressed; that Paul's theology ought not to be made responsible for his exuberant phrases. This loose theory of inspiration as here applied is condemned by the fact that the text begins and ends with the power of God. And with regard to "Faithful is He," it is remarkable that it is always used when the strength of the apostle's language might seem to demand the confirmation of a special Divine guarantee.
2. Entire sanctification as an end attained consists of —
(1) A consecrating act of God put forth to the utmost necessary point. The work is one of Divine power which God begins, continues, and brings to perfection. "He will do it." This separates our sanctification from everything which man by his own effort may attain. It is not the result of a new direction or impetus given to our faculties; through no energy of the self-consecrated will; through no mighty outgoings of the regenerate feeling; through no contemplation of the regenerate reason. There is a power above and behind using them, but not leaving the recovery of holiness to them. It is not the moral agent retrieving himself by Divine aid, but a new and more abundant life infused, sustained and carried to perfection by God Himself.
(2) This sanctifying power extends to all the elements of man's nature.
(a) His spirit is that element of his nature which is his distinction. In it he is only a little lower than the angels for a season, and has no fellowship whatever with the lower creation. Here is the seat of the Divine image, marred but never lost, and whose perfect restoration must wait until sanctification is lost in glory. Meanwhile the reason is entirely dedicated to its original function of being the depository of the supreme first principles of goodness, rectitude, and truth; the conscience is sanctified unto perfect fidelity as an internal legislator true to the truth, as an incorruptible witness pacified, and as a fearless interpreter of the Divine judgment; the will is sanctified as the servant of its own supreme choice and intention, and as the master of its own acts, by release from every impediment of unholy motives and by the constant influence of the truth applied by the spirit; the impulse behind and the end before, and all its means between consecrated in the unity of one supreme principle — the glory of God. But we are apt to lose the noblest meaning of the term "spirit," by the use of these synonyms. It is the element in man's nature that is capable of God. Dead or asleep in the unregenerate, it is quickened into life by the Holy Spirit; and when it is entirely possessed by Him who quickens it — the spiritual man being "filled with the Spirit," and wholly spiritual — it is wholly sanctified to the vision of God.
(b) The soul is consecrated as distinct from the spirit. This faculty, when mentioned apart from the spirit, comes between the higher and lower elements of our being. It is the sphere of the desires and passions, which are innocent in themselves, but transformed by the sinful will into worldly affections and lusts, which are restored, however, by being brought under the control of the Holy Spirit through the will, refusing them their unholy stimulants and nourishment in the world.
(c) The body is also sanctified as the instrument of spirit and soul. As such it has abundant honour put upon it as the temple of the Holy Ghost. But like spirit and soul, its sanctification is limited till sanctification and glorification shall be one.
(3) The entireness of the consecration. "Wholly" has reference to the person made up of these constituents. The three parts are not introduced to show that holiness becomes perfect by proceeding through these inwardly towards the centre. The sanctification is of the man in whom these unite. It begins with the self of the "new man," and the Holy Ghost dwelling therein, becomes a will within the will that rules the whole; and when He has confirmed that will in supreme devotion to God, sanctification is entire.
II. THE PRESERVATION OF THE SAME INTEGRAL PERSON IN A STATE OF BLAMELESSNESS TILL THE COMING OF CHRIST.
1. The same power that sanctifies as an act preserves that sanctification as a state. Entire sanctification as distinguished from sanctification is the confirmed, habitual, no longer interrupted devotion of the whole being to God. As the power which created the world sustains it by an indwelling energy, so the power which can fix upon God the strength of the whole soul can keep it fixed upon Him. A strong influence of grace descending in answer to prayer may carry the whole soul to God for a season. When the prayer of faith which brings this blessing becomes unceasing this act becomes the tranquil state of the soul. "By faith we stand," and He who is faithful is "able to keep us from falling."
2. This consecration is the preservation of all that belongs to Spirit, etc., in the fellowship and service of God. The whole man becomes entirely the Lord's property and worshipper, His instrument and servant. Hence entire sanctification is the habitual communion with God as the supreme good of the soul; and the habitual reference of every act to the will and glory of God as the Lord of life. Love makes the whole being a whole burnt offering.
3. This state of entire consecration is preserved in blamelessness.
(1) No blame is imputed to it; by virtue of the atoning blood it is in a constant state of acceptance.
(2) It is a faultless sacrifice. The High Priest so entirely consecrates the offering to God that sin is no longer found in it.
4. The fidelity of God is pledged to the accomplishment of this.
(W. B. Pope, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: 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.