“For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ,
Who died for us, that, whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with him.
Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another even as also ye do.”
That is the watchword to which the church of Christ is exhorted in the immediate context.
Vigilant, especially with a view to Christ’s coming!
As a thief in the night, so shall He come; that is, with respect to the ungodly. When Christ comes again on the clouds of heaven with His holy angels, they will not be expecting Him, neither will they be prepared. Such is the implication of His coming as a thief in the night.
But the believing church is not in darkness that that coming of Christ shall overtake her as a thief. For, the apostle explains, we are all the sons (not children) of light, and sons (not children) of the day. With respect to Christ’s coming, therefore; we will not be sleeping, as is characteristic of those who are of the night, nor will we be drunken, as those who are of the night, but we who live in hope will be expecting Him, and therefore will be vigilant.
That we are nevertheless exhorted to this spiritual vigilance is explained by the fact that we, who are sons of light and of the day, are still in the darkness of this present time. The night that descended upon the world of creation simultaneously with the fall of man at the beginning is still with us. Though we begin to see the first streaks of the dawn flash in prophetic fulfillment across the firmament as harbingers of the day, it is still night. Though we are the sons of light and of the day, we still live in the flesh which belongs to the darkness of the night. And because that flesh is no different from the flesh of the children of darkness, it is inclined to sleep and to drunkenness. And so we are called to let the light that is in us shine, and to put on those spiritual armaments, mentioned in verse 8, namely, those protective armaments, the breastplate of faith and love, and for the helmet the hope of salvation. Being properly clothed with defensive armaments we will be able to withstand the onslaughts of spiritual drowsiness and spiritual drunkenness, and remain spiritually alert. So will we remain vigilant, preserved unto the coming of the day.
Our text is intended to explain further how God prepares His people for the coming of Christ.
We have a date (an appointment) with Christ in Whom is all our salvation. His work of salvation which is already begun in us, reaches unto eternal life; and because this is what we expect from Him in His coming, we comfort and edify one another unto spiritual vigilance.
We have been appointed unto the attainment of salvation. That is, we have been set apart with design, foreordained, predestined according to the election of grace to enter into the fulness of salvation.
The subject of this appointment, of course, is God: the triune, eternal, covenant God. In His all-wise, eternal counsel He has chosen His people in love. He has set them apart, in distinction from all the peoples of the world. They are the chosen possession, the holy nation, which He has given to Christ, and which must be brought to Him through the way of sin and grace, through the way of the fall and redemption through the cross. For the realization, the final salvation of that people in the day of Christ at His coming, all other things are also ordained and appointed: the world of creation, the world under the curse, the angels and devils, the world of the ungodly, the bondage of sin and death, the incarnation of the Son of God, the cross and the resurrection, the ascension of Christ into heaven, the dispensation of the Spirit of Pentecost, the preaching of the gospel in all nations, the gathering of the church from all nations, the coming of Christ on the clouds of heaven, the final judgment at the end of the age.
The object of the appointment is we, the elect of God in Christ, Who must dwell with God in the house of His eternal covenant.
He hath appointed us not to wrath. This He has done unto all the ungodly, the children of darkness. Awful truth! Through the way of their sin and wilful disobedience, He has appointed them to be the objects of His holy wrath. His wrath is His constant and holy displeasure with all the workers of iniquity. And this eternal manifestation of His holy Self-love abides on them, the fullest display of which they shall experience in the eternal desolation of hell, where the fire is not quenched and the worm dieth not, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
That the apostle says we have not been appointed to wrath has a two-fold purpose. It magnifies the awful condemnation of the wicked. It also magnifies the glorious purpose God has in mind for all His people.
He hath appointed us unto the obtaining of salvation. And this means not only that we were appointed to be saved (which is true, of course). We were appointed to be delivered from the wrath to come. We were appointed to experience His saving grace now in principle—now, while we are still in the darkness .of this present time, and presently in heavenly perfection. But the apostle says much more than this. The obtaining of that final and glorious salvation He also appointed. Should He have appointed our salvation for us, but somehow we failed to attain to that salvation, it would avail us nothing. No, He appointed us to obtain it.
The Mediator through Whom this appointment is realized is our Lord Jesus Christ.
And this implies that He also was appointed, and that with design. And notice how the apostle mentions Him in all the significance of His Names. The complete Mediator is designated. He is our Lord, that is, the One Who possesses us because we were given to Him of the Father. He rules over us, delivers and defends us, and preserves us unto everlasting salvation. He is Jesus, that is, the God of our salvation manifested in the flesh, Who saves His people from their sins. He is Christ, that is, the anointed, appointed, and qualified One, Who as the Servant of God can function as our Prophet, Priest, and King, to bring us to glory.
The apostle, so it appears in the text, is not satisfied merely to inform us how or through whom God’s appointment of us to salvation is realized but also he gives us the ground upon which our appointment rests.
Our Lord Jesus Christ!
Who died for us!
Here we must not forget that we of ourselves have no right to that salvation to which we are appointed. We are by nature no different from the children of darkness who are appointed unto wrath. As we are of ourselves, we deserve as they to experience eternally the wrath of God. God would have done not unjustly to have cast us also into the fire of eternal hell; for this is precisely what we deserved. Nor should we forget that, when God appoints us unto eternal salvation, this appointment also in its final realization must be accomplished in the way of strictest justice. And that means that all our sin, both original and actual, must be atoned for. All the vials of God’s holy wrath must be poured out also over our sin. And that means the cross. That means that on the cross our Lord Jesus Christ, our complete Mediator, suffers in our stead the pains of hell, the being forsaken of God. He is the covering upon whom the righteous wrath of God descended in all its fury, and He died the atoning death, so that all His own escape. O, yes, while we escape, God’s holy justice is satisfied. All our sins are paid for in Christ, and His righteousness is imputed to us which He prepared. But there is more.
He also rose again from the dead! That sets the seal on our justification. For had He remained in death, there would be no assurance that His death was atoning. But thanks be to God, God raised Him, our complete Mediator, from the dead. Striking it is that the text does not literally mention His resurrection. But it is certainly implied, for the text does say, “whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.” That means, whether we die or remain alive unto Christ’s coming, we are united unto a living Mediator, and with Him we are forever to live. But there is still more.
He is the Mediator Who is coming again!
He is coming again to realize in its finality our appointment. And that means we have a date with Him. And it means, too, that He keeps that appointment. But it also means that until that date is kept He works salvation in us, and by His Spirit sanctifies us and applies His saving grace to us.
In the completed work of our Lord Jesus Christ is the absolute ground and therefore the assurance of our appointment unto salvation.
Whether we are awake, that is, alive, and therefore watching for His coming; or whether we sleep, that is, enter into physical death before His coming (it really makes no difference), we must live together with Him. That is the significance of our appointment as it is grounded in the perfect work of our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The perfection of our salvation, that is, the bringing of our salvation to its eternal completion, awaits the coming of the Lord. For that completed salvation we are now being prepared. That is the significance of the operation of the Spirit of Christ in our hearts. That is the significance of the preaching of the gospel. That is the significance of the dispensation of the means of grace—that we may be prepared for the coming of the Lord. So that when He shall appear we may be like Him, and appear with Him in the assembly of the elect, and enter with Him into the glory of our everlasting salvation.
No wonder the apostle adds: “Wherefore comfort yourselves together, and edify one another, even as also ye do.”
We may note here that there is absolutely no comfort for the ungodly. O, indeed, they also are appointed, but they are appointed unto wrath. And that means they have no hope, but only despair. They have no salvation, but only condemnation. They have nothing glorious to look forward to, but only the awful out-pouring of the anger of a holy God. That means, too, that in this life there is no working of salvation in them; only the wrath of God abides on them. And this explains also how in this present world they are not looking for the coming of Christ, how they are spiritually asleep in the night, how that even in their drunken sleep they talk and say: “Peace and safety” (vs. 3), until suddenly, being wholly unexpectant and unprepared, they are overtaken by the coming of Christ as a thief in the night. They have no comfort now, and in the day of His coming they will have no comfort. That is why, when He comes, they will cry to rocks and mountains to cover them. In vain they hope for annihilation, that they may be wiped out of existence. But their prayer is not heard, for they must all appear before the righteous Judge, Who shall sentence them to the eternal dispensation of wrath. Indeed, the Word of God has absolutely no word of comfort for them.
Comfort is only for the people of God!
And comfort, according to the Scriptures, is always that consideration of the sanctified mind and heart that contemplates a great good over against the present experience of evil, while it also understands how that present evil we experience must be subservient, must lead us to the attainment of that great good. Comforted they are with knowledge of God’s truth and promise that the good work He has begun in them He will also finish unto the day of Christ.
Comforted they are with the assurance that the present evils they suffer in this night of sin and death are not really evils working against them at all, but really servants of God molding and fashioning them after His will, and getting them ready for glory.
And this comfort is not something which they keep to themselves, but of which they speak to others, especially to the household of faith. They call attention of the saints to it, and as they speak of this comfort to others, it is with the intention to build them up to encourage them to stand together, and to watch in spiritual soberness for the coming of the Lord.
Urgent the exhortation is to comfort one another, because the longer the Lord tarries, the more susceptible we are to become spiritually lethargic. To be constantly vigilant it is necessary that we be redeeming the time, and be observant of the precursory signs of Christ’s coming. And we build one another up when we remind one another constantly to look for these signs.
For the coming of the Lord draweth nigh!