Scope and Divisions of the Second Epistle to Timothy.
The second epistle, as has already been said, is in many respects in contrast with the first. In the first, the house of God is in order, with every needful appointment for the preservation of godliness, of that which becomes the house. In the second epistle, we may almost say that we miss the house altogether. There is a foundation which remains firm, and that which has become a great house, with its vessels not only to honor but to dishonor also. We have no more about elders, or even deacons. Every one has, as it were, to think for himself and to act for himself, and, it may be, in the face of everything against him. We have to purge ourselves from the vessels to dishonor, and "follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart." There is no hope preached of recovery from this condition. We have to face it, not in the spirit of cowardice, but with a firm reliance upon Him who remains ever the same for us, and sustained according to counsels which have been towards us before ever the Church or even the world was. The apostle himself is brighter, if possible, than ever; with the light of eternity in his eyes and the sense of his good fight being finished, he leaves those that are behind him to face the condition of things without apostolic power at all. The departure of Paul is in this way most significant; and he does not depart with the sympathy and fellowship of all the people of God, as we should have imagined surely would have been the case, but those in Asia have departed from him; of those that are around him in Rome only two or three have yielded him unmingled satisfaction. The circumstances are as dreary as can possibly be imagined, but heaven is bright, and the road brightens with the glory upon it to the perfect day which is at hand.
The epistle appeals in a peculiar manner to ourselves. We have seen the decline and all the confusion attending upon it increase only more and more up to the present time, the mercy of God coming in indeed to revive, but only with regard to a remnant which is more and more to be separated from the rest; even then to experience how the very movements which have been with God are prone constantly to terminate in the flesh, and if there is to be anything, God has to work still, as it were, from the beginning, and to separate, it may be, a fresh remnant from the remnant which has just failed. Strange indeed it is, and yet according to the character of things, that this decay, with all the terrible consequences of it, should not be perfectly obvious to all Christians — that we should have need still to debate about it, and that the dream that the Church is a little leaven in the world which is to convert the world to God should still be clung to by so many as yet advocate it in the present day.
The first division begins with what is the abiding comfort and security of the soul — that God abides, and that "according to the promise of life" which was given in Christ Jesus before the world began.
The second division insists upon the conflict of faith, which was now ending for the apostle, the need of strength to meet the conditions, and of patience, whether in the warfare as a soldier of Christ or as a husbandman waiting for the fruit of the seed sown. The dead and risen One is the example here. Through death to life, through the cross to the glory, is the divine principle.
We have in the third division the manifestation of the evil now in an organized form the whole condition of things is affected by it. The house of God is unduly enlarging. Its enlargement in this way is no cause for joy or triumph, but the very opposite. It is practically the beginning of the parable of the mustard seed, which, from the smallest of seeds, becomes a tree which is, after all, a poor enough worldly show, and its spiritual character strangely affected by the evil introduced: the birds of the air are lodging in the branches of it.
In the fourth division we go on to the last days, but find that there is nothing but increasing lawlessness, the persecution of the godly remaining as the constant experience the opposition of the enemy being, oftentimes, by imitation of that which is of God, the wiles of the enemy being what we have to do with in the large part of the conflict with him. Here we are reminded of how God, nevertheless, has furnished the men of God with God-breathed oracles, which are His word, ready for all emergencies, the one stay of the soul by the power of the Spirit manifested through them in the midst of the wreck of such authority as God had endowed the Church with at the beginning.
In the last division the apostle bids farewell to the scene of his labors, and leaves to others the conflict for him now finished. It is plain how the whole epistle is an appendix to the first, a gracious remembrance of our necessity on the part of Him who still abides with us, of all that might otherwise stagger and discourage us. The word is still, to the end, and always, what it was at the beginning: "Be strong," and, evermore, "Be strong."
The divisions, then, are:
1. (2 Tim. 1.): God always abiding for us.
2. (2 Tim. 2:1-13): The conflict of faith.
3. (2 Tim. 2:14-26): The manifestation of evil in an organized form.
4. (2 Tim. 3.): The testing on all sides.
5. (2 Tim. 4.): The departure of Paul.
Division 1. (2 Tim. 1.)
God always abiding for us.
1. The apostle, in writing this final epistle, realizes with satisfaction his being an apostle of Christ "by the will of God." The assurance of this is no less the assurance that that for which God has appointed him shall not, and cannot, fail. However results may seem to speak, faith knows that God is Master of all; of the whole scene, and of His foes no less. Through death to life is His principle always for us; although, taking the peculiar form which it does here through the shipwreck of the professing mass, it has a voice of alarm in it beyond what might seem to be in the normal application. Paul's apostleship is also "according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus," a promise which is developed still more in the epistle to Titus, as that which was given in Him "before the age-times." Life for us has been wrought out by Another, and is the bestowal of free grace, which therefore cannot fail. Whatever may be in conflict, here is security. The Captain of Salvation is already in glory, and the life which He has given is already within us, making itself realized in the faith which draws from Him its sustenance and blessing. The epistle has, of course, still the character of individuality strongly marked upon it, as one to Timothy the beloved child of his labor, to whom he wishes grace, mercy, peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. Grace is the foundation and security of all; mercy reminds us of the pity of God for the infirmities of those in a scene like this, constantly needy and dependent; and peace is the issue of the two former — the effect of this ministry of God to the need which only brings out, the greater it is, the more His resources. At the end of the race the apostle can look back over the race that has been run. He has served God from his forefathers with a pure conscience. He can see in his on case, as he reminds Timothy with regard to himself, how this promise of life has worked out in the preservation of a people for God often, while not in the way of nature merely, yet according to the Passover character, which we have often seen to be realized so much in Christianity, the blessed assurance of salvation, as was said to the jailer, to "thee and thy house." Thus with Timothy also the unfeigned faith that was in him now had dwelt first in his grandmother Lois, and then in his mother Eunice. It is good to realize in this way how it is the nature of faith to propagate itself, (God being with it and in it, for this, of course,) the Creator-God as such still bearing in mind the natural ties which He has instituted, and which, spite of all failure, He makes thus to result for blessing. The apostle never allowed his assurance of God being in all this, working out purposes that could not fail, to make him relax his supplications for the very people in whom he sees God working. On the contrary, he is only energized the more to remember them with a love which recalls such things as Timothy's tears; themselves, no doubt, the witness of the bond which united him to the apostle. The failure of those around him was only making him the more realize the heart of the young disciple, poured out perhaps over his departure, and in the consciousness of what was in every place awaiting him. It was divine life that expressed itself thus in what might seem merely human affection. As we know, in Christ the human and the divine have been inseparably united together, and there cannot be the least discordance between the two.
2. The apostle exhorts Timothy to rekindle the gift of God which was in him by the putting on of his hands. Elsewhere we have seen that this gift was given in connection with prophecies which had gone before with regard to him, and that the laying on of the hands of the elders was the recognition of it; but the apostle here declares that the one instrument of God in its communication was himself — a recognition, may we not think, of the spiritual tie which did unite the apostle to this true child, born of his labors. True gift as it was which was in him, he still needed to rekindle it — a strong word, which makes us realize the need we have even with regard to that which God Himself has given. The contact with things around tends to dull the very sense of it within ourselves, and there needs constantly recourse to God, that the gift may be maintained in the divine energy which alone suits it. Here it is evident that the decline which was already so apparent had had a certain effect, and that there was danger of giving way under the pressure of it. Timothy is reminded, therefore, that God has not given a spirit of cowardice, but of power, and of love, and of wise discretion. We have what necessarily characterises the work of Him who, dwelling in that which is the very scene of our frailty, — the body, — nevertheless, has, in fact, control of it and of everything around. Weakness may characterize the vessel, but not the power that is in it; while love leads out the soul beyond itself and enables it freely to spend one's self in self-denial for the blessing of others. The spirit of self-control controls, in fact, all other things. If we are masters of ourselves, we are masters of all else; nor can we ever have to yield to the enemy through weakness, while we have One abiding in us who is Omnipotence itself. How good, indeed, to prove the weakness, which only makes us prove the all-sufficiency of God!
Timothy was not, therefore, to be ashamed of the testimony of the Lord nor of Paul himself, His prisoner, but to take his own place as suffering evil along with the gospel according to the power of God. Power is displayed now after this manner, not in fleshly victories, or what might be recognized in the world as success, although we are prone to make this the test of everything; but we can little realize what success is as yet. By and by we shall find, indeed, that all that is of God has been successful. Nothing has been without its effect; but in the meanwhile we must be far from the spirit of a Gamaliel, which would judge by what the world counts success, and leave no room, in fact, for faith at all. In the world, as people say, nothing succeeds like success. They look upon success as something evident, something which no one can deny. But what, then, was the success of Paul, the poor prisoner, deserted by the very people that were one with him as Christians? and what, indeed, with some of the main truths for which he strove, to lapse and abide in darkness unknown for many generations? The call for patience taxes us, no doubt; nevertheless, if patience have her perfect work, it will be proved that thus we shall be "perfect and entire, wanting nothing." God has already done for us so great a work that we may well trust Him for everything. He "hath saved us and called us with a holy calling;" and that not as the reward of any works of our own, but "according to His own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the age-times," but which has now been made manifest by the appearing of the Saviour, who has "annulled death, and brought life and incorruption to light by the gospel." Here is once more, as is plain, the promise of life; the apostle carrying us back to the beginning, — not to eternity itself, as is generally supposed, but to the promise given before the dispensations began. Some would hesitate to call the announcement of the Seed of the woman a promise in this way. It was, no doubt, in the form of a doom denounced upon the serpent; but that, indeed, was a promise for man, surely intended for him, and which Adam's faith laid hold of, when, in view of it, he called his wife's name "Eve," or "life" — the one through whom death was coming in, he calls "the mother of all living." Then it was that God, answering to the faith thus manifest, clothed Adam and his wife with the very fruit of death itself, making death minister, as we know in Christ it has ministered, to the life which He gives. This is no restoration of the first man, as many speak. It is a promise of the Seed of the woman. It does not reinstate the first man as such, but proclaims, indeed, deliverance for man, for the sinner; and everything here (while couched in those parabolic actings in which so constantly we find in the Old Testament the deepest truths of God to be hidden) is in accordance with this. Life for those under death is the text upon which God was preaching; and not without the ability, surely, to convey something of the blessing to the souls of those who heard it, although the fulness of it is only now come out. The appearing of our Saviour has made it manifest by the annulling of death and the bringing of life and incorruption to light by the gospel.
The expression used here, "before the age-times" has been obscured by the supposed equivalent expression, "before the world began;" and so it has been conceived to be a promise in the previous eternity, and thus something between the Father and the Son, the terms of that covenant between these of which theology, not Scripture, speaks so much. It remains for theology to produce the first text which speaks of such a covenant. "The promise of life" was, truly, "before the age-times;" the word used here being the adjective of a word even most commonly translated "age," and which is equivalent very much to what we call a dispensation. The dispensations, in fact, had not begun when God gave this promise. Innocence was ended, God was in His grace laying hold of the fallen creature, and that for a blessing which would more than meet all the consequences of the fall; but there was no dispensation in the way in which we speak, and even the first age of man's history, which terminated at the Deluge, had little of the character of a dispensation at all. We may, no doubt, truly call it such; but that which it did was simply to test the reliance of man upon the promise which had been given, the test of the faith of the fallen creature in the remedy which He had announced. There was not, as yet, even the institution of human government, much less was there any law. Every one was a law to himself, and thus there was, in one sense, the fullest trial of man that could be given. He was absolutely free, that he might show now what he would do with his freedom. Alas, the flood swept over that ancient world, leaving but eight persons to begin a new one.
Through all, nevertheless, God had adhered to His purpose. The promise might seem long fulfilling. No doubt it was long. There were needs for this which man himself could little estimate. To estimate them would have been to estimate the corruption that was in him, and to pronounce upon himself in a way which he has never done except as forced to do it. Spite of the delay, God in due time, as we know, vindicated His promise — a lesson for us of patience, who have seen once more the blessed truth, now fully announced, corrupted and made light of by those who have professedly heard and received it. The times before the flood will be repeated, as the Lord assures us, in the times which precede His own appearing; but the purpose of God holds throughout, and "the knowledge of the glory of God," spite of all, shall "cover the earth as the waters cover the sea."
Death has already been annulled, and life and incorruption are brought to light by the gospel. Life there had been, spiritual life, from the beginning. God had been always giving life. There had always been upon earth a testimony in this way to Himself, but now it is brought to light; with resurrection also, which is what is referred to in "incorruption" here as a principle of God's ways of the most exceeding importance. Death is permitted to have its way as the penalty upon sin and the judgment of man universally, but only to give way to resurrection, in which God declares Himself as God, acting in the living energy which belongs to Himself and in the grace which ensures absolutely the result of this. The apostle's ministry was of the fulness of blessing such as this, which was now going out far beyond Israel to the nations everywhere, not without its necessary accompaniment of suffering also, but with the joyful knowledge in it of One who is able to keep every trust committed to Him, and to show His faithfulness fully in the day that is coming. The apostle speaks for himself as to the abiding confidence that he has in One so fully proved and so fully known.
3. He bids Timothy now to hold "the form of sound words" which he had heard of him "in faith and love" which were "in Christ Jesus." This is an important word for us, and a word too little understood by Christians in general. The words which Timothy had heard of Paul we have heard as now for us, contained in those Scriptures to which Peter assures us the epistles of Paul belong, of the character of which he is going to speak more fully in a little while; but Timothy is not merely to hold the sound words which have been heard; he is to hold the form of them; that is, he is to hold them in the very way in which they have been spoken, which Scripture has, it is clear, provided for us. Verbal inspiration is here insisted on, perhaps more emphatically than anywhere else. It is not simply the spirit of the words which we have to listen to, or the general ideas, but to take heed to the very form in which these words are conveyed to us. The form embodies the spirit; and we, as those that are in the body, should know for ourselves how much the form implies. The form is, in fact, the instrument of the spirit, and is that which manifests it — which alone, for us, as we are now constituted, can manifest it. Scripture has thus a form as well as a spirit. Every truth of God has its own form, its way of presentation which is to be maintained and heeded.
No doubt, we may express, and are often called to express, things in the way in which they appear to us. This has an importance of its own also. It speaks of what our souls have received of that which God has been teaching, and Scripture is left in our hands in such a way as to insist upon diligence on our part to lay hold of it and to apprehend it aright. We have no creed made for us, as people ever since have been busy in making it. That which they insist upon shows us, in fact, a real need that we have, and the responsibility which rests upon us. Scripture is not given in such a manner as to manifest itself for what it is, to all. "The man of God" is to be furnished by it thoroughly, but only "the man of God." For this very reason you cannot accomplish the thing which is desired in an authoritative creed. The authority given to it is the very thing, in fact, which spoils it. There is no danger in the creed as long as it is the expression of the individual faith of those who make it, but it has no authority. It may suggest; but we can only fall back upon Scripture itself as justifying it in any way, and thus it is always open, and rightly open, to question whether Scripture does justify it. Scripture is thus the authority, and not the creed; yet, as already said, the creed has a necessity of its own, and is wholesome as long as, and just so long as, it is the expression of the faith of those who put it forth — no further. It may be a witness in this way for God, but a human witness, and which therefore can be appealed against, and the appeal made to God Himself — that is, to His Word.
But, in fact, the more we apprehend the form that the truth takes in Scripture, the more, of necessity, we shall find that a creed is being formed within us. The truths come together. We realize in them a harmony, a congruity, which there must be of necessity in the truth as a whole. We receive it, in a sense, in fragments; but we are necessarily not content with this. We seek to have things together; and this is necessary, that the proper power of them should be realized. The form embodies the spirit, and the form of every individual truth is that which makes for us the whole picture of the truth, each part enhancing the beauty and blessedness of the whole; but the more we really seek to have every part of Scripture in its relation to every other part, the more the form as a whole develops for us, the more shall we realize the perfection of the form which Scripture itself has, containing for us blessedness of which we have to possess ourselves in faith, and which, after all, is still ever beyond us — not to discourage but to encourage us on to the possession of it. The creed of a living faith is thus a creed which is continually perfecting, continually enlarging. It cannot be otherwise. Thus we cannot build upon the creed itself, we can only build upon the Scripture, and here the apostle's exhortation, therefore, finds its full value for us. We are to hold fast the very "form of the sound words" which it speaks to us. The more earnestly we go on, the more ready shall we be to go back, and to ripen our apprehension of the way in which the Spirit of God has spoken to us. Labor is always a necessity to us, faith has always to be in living activity; while the acceptance of an authoritative human creed results, of necessity, in the hindrance to all true progress, and in the lack of exercise as to all the details of that which is supposed to be ascertained, and which, therefore, needs it no more.
We must hold, then, "the form of sound words;" but the doctrine, however accurate, is not enough: it must be "in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus." The truth must be received in the willing and obedient heart, and responded to by the soul attracted by it, realizing the power of that which it conveys. In connection with this, the apostle urges Timothy to keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us the good thing committed to him. The Spirit who dwelt in Timothy dwells in us also, and by His power we have also to keep whatever good thing has been committed unto us. We need not inquire so much into the character of the gift. We may, perhaps, not be able to appreciate it even, fully. We shall surely lack intelligence as to it in proportion as we are less concerned to be in perfect subjection to that Spirit, who has all power for us; but to each one of us has been committed a gift, if we are members of the body of Christ at all, a gift distinctly our own, which we need the energy of the Holy Spirit to keep for us; and we shall find, no doubt, that this has suited connection here with the holding fast "the form of sound words" itself. We shall find that as God enables us to be true to the ministry of that which He has given, we shall be in the way to have more committed to us. In proportion as we undervalue the gift we shall, as far as lies in us, lose it. In proportion as we do not care to communicate to others the "sound words" which we have received, we shall find their power over our own souls diminish and their sweetness for us also.
4. We have now, in contrast with the holding fast, the turning away of many, the sad foreboding of the wholesale defection that was coming in. "This thou knowest, that all they who are in Asia have turned away from me." It is striking that here we have the field of the second and third of Revelation. Asia is, as is well known, in Scripture, not the continent which we speak of under that name, but a limited district of that which we now call Asia Minor, and in which the seven churches were all found. However far this turning away in Asia had gone, yet it is plain that it is a wide defection of which the apostle speaks here; "All they who are in Asia." Of course, it does not mean that they had turned away from the confession of Christ. Nor can it be accepted that it refers simply to the abandonment of the apostle when again imprisoned — the opposite conduct to that of Onesiphorus. The Pauline doctrines, on the other hand, were very early given up. Just the brightest and most blessed truths are always that which man has most proved himself unable to keep. They are the things which go first of all; and, as a fact, even the doctrine of justification by faith went in this manner, and was little realized for centuries. The doctrine of the Church we find nowhere, even in the earliest days, outside of Scripture. The Church is for the fathers just what the apostle speaks of as like "a great house." It is hierarchical, dogmatic, sacramentarian, in the spirit of the old Judaism, yet not the Judaism of Scripture, but of the Pharisees. This has acquired an outwardly Christian form, or rather, let us say, a Christian dress, but nothing more. Thus, then, was the necessary testing of faith proving the weakness as to the faith itself. The apostle turns from it now to one who had been able to abide the test; breathing out a fervent prayer that the Lord might grant mercy to the house of Onesiphorus, as one who had oft refreshed him and not been ashamed of his chain, seeking him out very diligently when he was in Rome, when the implied difficulty of finding him might have been his excuse for lack of ministry. He prays that the Lord may grant to him also that he might find mercy of the Lord in that day. The reward of grace, after all, is mercy, and can be nothing else. Only grace can say to any one of us: "She hath done what she could." Thus it is mercy crowns even the triumphant victor. Onesiphorus' ministry to the apostle had begun in other circumstances. It had not ceased when the circumstances were more adverse.
Division 2. (2 Tim. 2:1-13.)
The conflict of faith.
We now come to the general subject of the conflict of faith, the apostle addressing himself to one who evidently was naturally of a timid spirit, while yet possessing heartfelt desire to be with Christ at all cost; but this being with Christ entailed the service of One who Himself had gone to death in the pursuit of His service, whom God had raised from the dead. In a hostile world as a soldier, he was to be free and without entanglement. As a husbandman, he must realize the long and patient labor that had to be before the fruits could be partaken of. The principle abides for all of us, of course at all times; the apostle insists upon the faithfulness of the word, that it is, if we have died together with Him, that we shall live together; that if we endure, we shall reign with Him; and that, on the other hand, if we deny Him, He also will deny us. The one thing impossible to Him ever is that He can deny Himself.
1. The first need, therefore, in view of the circumstances, is to be strong, and grace is that which alone will furnish us with the strength we need. Timothy was, with the courage of his conviction, to entrust the things which he had heard of the apostle, in the presence of many witnesses, to faithful men who should be able to teach others also. This is the apostolic succession which we are to look for in Christianity, and it is the only one. It is a succession of those who hold the doctrine of the apostles, energized by the Spirit of God. It is at once most sorrowful and very comforting to realize how little the history of the Church is the history of those who were at any time approved of God. The first Church history was written when already a debased Christianity had accepted alliance with the world.
Paul's Christianity had found its place of shipwreck; but Christendom had found, also, its Melita, its harbor of refuge, its land of milk and honey. The millennium was supposed to be at hand, but it was only the preparation time of the new ship of Alexandria which was to bring the whole company with Paul, a prisoner, safely to Rome. It is well for us to think that the principle of what is here, however, must apply all through, and that it is right to think of the succession of faithful men who should be able to teach others. It is right, as far as lies in us, to provide for this; but it is only the power of the Spirit that can make anything effectual here, and who will assuredly take care of the glory of Christ, whatever may be before us.
2. Timothy was to take his share in suffering, then, "as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." Here there was, as a first necessity, the need of being free from entanglement with the affairs of life. What a rebuke this calling of a soldier is to those who, if they be Christ's, must necessarily be such, but who think it hard to have to conform to the requirements of a soldier's life! Think of men who have to leave everything, perhaps, at a moment's notice, to put their lives in peril, and all to obtain, at most, the praise of men, the corruptible crown, which so soon must surely wither. The strife which belongs to us as Christians, however sad may be the circumstances which force one into opposition, is one, nevertheless, as to which there can never be a doubt in the soul as to the importance of that for which it is undergone — the goodness of that which is to be the reward of it. There is no throwing away of life upon a cause which may, after all, prove to be a mistake; and if the conflict even take the form, as now it must needs take it, of contention with the evil which exists among Christians themselves, and oftentimes with those who are themselves Christians, none the less it is that which can rightly engage all the energy of the soul to carry it to victory. The apostle warns us here, indeed, by another figure, that if one strive for mastery, he is not crowned except he strive lawfully. The method and character of the strife on our side must be subject to the moral conditions which never can be absent for one who is to expect his reward from God. The rightness of the cause does not release from the necessity of having every step taken to be as right as the end is. The principle of the world warfare, that in war everything is lawful, has no place in the Christian one. The end does not sanctify the means, but the better the end, the more worthy must be the means employed to attain it.
The apostle adds to this the need of patience. We are not merely soldiers, we are laborers; and the labor must come first, before there can be any partaking of the fruits. Long labor it may be, and faith needed, as we put seed into the ground, only apparently, perhaps, to be swallowed up by it, and have to wait how long to see the resurrection of that which must die first in order to bring forth fruit! Painful to nature, here are yet the conditions of the divine work; but they are necessitated by what man is on the one hand, and by the distinct need of the stamp of God being upon all that He is doing. Resurrection, the principle of which the apostle has already shown us to be in the seed sown, is that which on the one hand reveals man's condition to the full, and on the other hand displays the power of God working in its own sovereign and almighty character. The apostle urges Timothy to think well of what he is saying. And here he will find the understanding which the Lord will surely give for all the way.
3. This principle the apostle now enlarges upon: "Jesus Christ, of the seed of David," did not, nevertheless, quietly succeed to David's throne; undoubted might be His title, and sure that He was to fill it; nevertheless, upon all this, death was to pass. The very promises of God were to know this law of death and resurrection. A higher character of things, of course, ensues, and a more glorious throne than that of David is to be the portion of Him who passed through death to obtain it; but it was this which already furnished the gospel of God for men, and it was no wonder if, in the sowing of this gospel seed, there should be still the same principle observed all through. The bringer of the word of peace must meet the sword; the bringer of blessing for the souls of men must suffer as an evil-doer unto bonds; but it was to prove, also, that the word of God could not be bound; that the opposition of man could not, in fact, prevail against it. There were those who yet would, through the grace of God, fulfil the purpose of God in the obtaining of that salvation which was in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. God was acting for the Son of His love, and it was impossible that the fruits of His work could finally be wanting. Death itself was in this case no Sadducean annihilation of that which died. And a death with Christ is the very condition of life. Here is the faithful word, that "if we have died together with Him, we shall also live together." There is no other way. Grace itself does not deliver us from the necessity of abiding by such conditions as these. It is a principle stamped upon nature itself, and which Christianity only brings out and exhibits in its full meaning and necessity. We must endure the suffering in order to reign with Him. We must have the cross to find the crown; and then, alas, there is the possibility, even to a Christian, of shrinking from the trial, and, in some sad sense at least, if not in an open way, denying Him: but then we must expect a corresponding denial. Grace will have its way surely, but grace itself conforms to the conditions which are here. This is the way grace manifests itself, and we cannot in any sense, or in any particular, deny that which is of Christ, deny Him therefore in any part of that which belongs to Him, without finding in ourselves the corresponding recompense; and "if we are unfaithful," says the apostle, "He abideth faithful, He cannot deny Himself," His own nature. This is what makes the conditions so absolute. The One we serve must of necessity be served according to the reality of what He is. The Righteous One must be served in righteousness; the Holy One, in holiness; the One who is not of the world, by those who seek no place in the world. We cannot make Christ other than He is, and we cannot make the world other than it is.
Division 3. (2 Tim. 2:14-26.)
The manifestation of evil in an organized form.
The apostle goes on now to consider more fully the actual condition of things. Evil is already manifesting itself, not merely in individuals, however numerous even these may be. It is beginning, at least, to show a more organized form. The apostle, no doubt as seeing with Him who can see the end from the beginning, speaks of it as what was implied in things that were already at work; but, manifestly, a system of things was already coming in such as in a little while was to obtain everywhere. The foundation, indeed, remained, with the seal of the Lord upon it, — the security for the soul, as one realizes it: on the one hand "the Lord knoweth them that are His," and on the other hand (if times were at hand in which it would be no longer possible for us to do so, yet the simple, safe principle abides, — that which is to govern our conduct at all times) he that nameth the name of the Lord is to depart from iniquity." Doubtless the house of God remains; for the Spirit has come to abide in the Church here, and that which constitutes the Church therefore as the house of God, abides; but as to the form of it, the great house is not the form of the house of God. The apostle, in fact, does not seem as if he would name the two together. We see, as it were, in what he says, but a foundation which abides, and a certain great house built up, as to which the Lord Himself will pronounce in due time the character.
1. The apostle introduces all this still in the way of exhortation. The things of which he speaks are not things merely to be known and lamented over. They are to produce Christian exercise and Christian action. Good it is to have mourners in secret, and the spirit of mourners is certainly that which belongs to us; a mere harsh judgment (or a cold one) can never satisfy the heart of Him who enters profoundly into the condition of things amongst His people, and to whom the whole scene is absolutely naked and open. If He judges, He judges as the Priest or Intercessor. If He walks among the candlesticks, it is because He is still earnest for the light which at such cost to Himself He has kindled amongst men; but the mere wail of lamentation does not suit Him either. It is our part to show the reality of our sorrow by our separation from the evil, and the activity of love must take its form from the condition of things around. It must not make light of the evil. Of these things, then, Timothy was to put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they should not dispute about words to no profit, and thus to the subversion of the hearers. Notice how earnestly we have to seek the profit of words. Mere idle questions are not, in that sense, idle, but work positive mischief for the soul. We must abide in that which is true, not speculative, and for this we must abide in the "word of truth," which alone can give it us positively with regard to anything. Deception is in the air. Satan is the prince of the power of it, and woe to us if we trust our own judgment and do even that which is right in our own eyes merely.
Timothy was therefore to strive diligently to show himself approved of God, a workman not needing to be ashamed, as rightly dividing the word of truth." How important is this right division, of which the apostle speaks here! Scripture itself is true all through, from cover to cover, and yet how much we may blunder, and what disastrous work we may do, by giving that which is for the sinner to the saint, or that which is for the saint to the sinner; by bringing Judaism into Christianity, or even by carrying back our Christianity into Judaism. We have to learn, not merely the existence of certain truths, but the right use of them; and the abuse, in fact, is not consistent with the holding of the truth itself. Yet how little has this been observed by Christians! If a man writes a book, people will realize that there is some reason, at least, for the division that he makes in the chapters of it. If a treatise is written, they will realize it to be a first need to know what it is written about. They would not be content to say of a book of science that it was all science, without knowing to what division of science it belonged. Yet with the word of God, so various and immense as it is in scope, and dealing with the whole field of spiritual knowledge, how little importance attaches in men's eyes, to the meaning of the different books, for instance, into which Scripture has been divided, and still less to the intelligence as to the true divisions of these books themselves. Theories which are even yet current, for instance, as to the gospels are a perfect illustration of what is meant. Are they the work of independent writers? Who wrote first? How far was one the copyist of the other? Such things are deemed important;but the result is commonly only to produce in the soul the sense that Scripture is in this way a mere kind of patchwork, writers doing the best they can, and others following them to supply what they have missed, if not almost to make straight what they have left crooked. How the word of God has suffered in such hands! The very glories of Christ which are here distinguished as far as may be for us, in order that we may rightly apprehend them, are all obscured by what in the common cant of the day is spoken of as the human element in Scripture, but which, forgetting how Christ has married the divine and the human, is always brought in to lead astray the soul from the divine side of things. How earnestly we need to insist upon what the apostle says here, that we rightly divide the word of truth! We shall not do it except, to begin with, we realize that it is the word of truth — all truth, and nothing else. If we treat the apostles as accused persons, we shall find that they are but silent before their self-constituted judges. If, in the appreciation which all ought to have of the character of that which they have at any rate produced, we own their sufficiency for the work entrusted to them, we shall find that they speak and speak; and the more earnestly in this spirit we inquire into everything that they put before us, the more we search and ask of them every question that is possible to be made, the more the infinite glory of that which is but the glory of the Word made flesh will break upon us.
2. The apostle insists once more upon the cumulative character of error, "vain babblings," not doomed to destruction by their vanity, but only increasing to continually greater impiety — falling into it, as the apostle phrases it; for the whole condition here is one of lapse, of declension going on and on, with no power of recovery save in the truth that is being ignored and departed from. Such words spread as a gangrene, as he illustrates by the acts of Hymenaeus and Philetus, men who had already gone astray, saying that the resurrection was a thing which had taken place and not a thing to come — a spiritual resurrection therefore, and which might as such assume the appearance of spirituality in those who proclaimed such a doctrine, while it was in reality the overthrow of everything. The faith of some was, in fact, being overthrown by it. How important it is to realize the subtle link, in this way, of one error with another, and that, one error being entertained, to be consistent with it, we shall have to embrace one after another, except the mercy of God prevent. It is a down grade, an inclined plane, and the effect of natural gravitation will surely be seen in it.
3. He turns now, first of all, to point out that there was, after all, a foundation of God which stood. Blessed be God, Christ Himself is, as we know, the Foundation of faith, — the Foundation of His Church, — and this must stand. This is our security, as already said, that God is acting for the name of His Son, and no rising up of men against it, whatever their profession, can possibly set this aside. Every step, with God, is taken unrepentingly; the end is in view, and that end will be as surely reached as it is an end; but if we look practically at how God is working in this way, and seek to discover His work, we find that the foundation of God, which abides, has this seal upon it, already manifests itself in this way: if, on the one hand, with the continually increasing iniquity, our eyes become less able to discern amid the confusion those who are of God and those who are not, nevertheless, the undimmed eyes of Him who is Master over the whole scene are everywhere, with no possibility of anything being hid from them. "The Lord knoweth them that are His." This is on His side. It is not a principle operative with us except for our comfort. Comfort is that which we need to begin with, if we are to look at all at that which otherwise would be complete disheartenment. We must find it, then, in this assurance, not merely that the Lord surely knows, but that, after all, there are those also whom He knows; and this knowing is no less than an acquaintance of heart with heart, a relation between the Lord and those that are His; which, indeed, on their side, may not be realized with the consciousness that they should have of it, yet, after all, a true one, and to be owned of Him in due time and place. Now He may not be able to own even those that are His own, on account of that in them which violates the conditions which we have already been realizing — conditions which His own nature imposes upon that which is communion with Himself. Still, if they are His, He knows them. It is for our comfort to know that He knows them. It is not intended to be for comfort to those who are in this mixed condition, nor should they, nor can they, be content with it. The conditions of communion, the conditions under which the Lord can openly manifest Himself in connection with those that are His, are the other side of the seal here: Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord withdraw from iniquity." It is not the name of Christ simply, but the name of the Lord — the One who has authority over us, the One to whom we bow. He who names that Name, and so far identifies himself with the One he owns as such, must withdraw from iniquity. It may cost, no doubt. We must not shrink because of the cost of it. It will cost us much more to go on with the evil, and thus lose the witness and power of communion with Him, — lose how much of the good for the present time at least of that relationship which may actually exist, — lose how much for eternity, who can tell? But we are not fit to contemplate aright the scene before us, except we realize that which alone enables us to know the Lord's work: for the actual house that exists is now a great house. There are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth. There are some to honor; there are some, alas, to dishonor. Vessels they are all, as professedly at least in the Lord's hand for His service. In some sense He may serve Himself with them too, and yet, as far they are concerned, not in any way which will bring them to honor, but to dishonor.
Here, then, at once comes the application of the rule that we must separate ourselves from iniquity. One must have purified himself from these, the "vessels to dishonor," in order to be one's self "a vessel to honor." Thus there are three classes, as it would seem, constituted: the first, the vessel to dishonor, evidently that; secondly, the vessels to honor, purified from their association with these; a third must exist, unless all unpurged vessels are reckoned as absolutely "vessels to dishonor," which one could scarcely say. They belong to a middle, undetermined class, of which one must, in measure, stand in doubt, as not characterized absolutely one way or the other. How large a class, in fact, in days such as the present, these must be; for the Lord's rule to be followed out costs much. "He that separateth himself from evil maketh himself a prey;" and then, there are really questions which come up in the mind, and which increase the hesitation of those who hesitate. What consequences will be entailed by this necessity of absolute separation from "vessels to dishonor"? They are in the house, professedly the house of God, and we cannot separate from the house. The plea of mercy, of patience, of not judging others — how many arguments are, in fact, here to prevent the drawing of a straight line! But consequences are never to be a rule for us. We must know just of what they are consequences, first; we must know whether they are simply present or final consequences. If our actions are to be determined by these last, they must be determined, for the most part, by a future to us inaccessible; and a common regard to prudence, as men would say, will, Gamaliel-like, operate to arrest all action; but in fact God takes the responsibility of all the consequences of following out His rule. Consequences are His, not ours, and there are no consequences to threaten us like those of not being according to His mind. They may threaten to shut us up into a narrow path, to hinder usefulness, and what not. This is all provided for by the apostle's assurance that one who purifies himself from the "vessels to dishonor" is just one "sanctified and meet for the Master's use, and prepared to every good work." And yet here, too, faith must be exercised; the very consequences which men threaten with may seem, in fact, to follow. We know Him who had to say: "I have labored in vain; I have spent my strength for nought and in vain," but who could say also: "Yet surely my judgment is with the Lord and my work with my God." It is of such an One that we are followers, and, as the apostle has already reminded us, we are not to expect to have a path that is different from His. For a just estimate of our work we may have to wait for the day of account, or perhaps, even here, for a day of resurrection; but divine principles honestly worked out can have but one issue; the Lord's word guarantees against any possible failure.
This, then, is the character of things which the apostle speaks of as already coming in. The true Church of God was already beginning to be what men call "invisible." Satan was assailing it with the oversowing of God's field, with that which was imitation, or even worse. We see that God does not permit His people to say, "We are delivered to these things; there is no escape from them." The magnitude of the evil is certainly no good argument for toleration of it. Here, then, are principles which the apostle commends to us, through Timothy, as needed for the present time. There is no need to doubt, in fact no possibility of doubting, that the "great house" exists; and God calls every one to his duty with regard to it, not to give way to mere lamentation or judgment of the evil, save as judgment involves imperatively our own action with regard to that which we judge. The vessel to honor is only he who is purified from the "vessels to dishonor." That must mean something. Let us each take care for himself that he knows what it means.
4. But there cannot be merely for us a path of separation. If there is that which is to be shunned, there is also that with which we are to go. We cannot withdraw ourselves from the conflict altogether. We cannot disclaim our kinship with those who, animated by the same principles, are seeking to walk in the path in which we are walking. The walking in the same path will of necessity bring those who do so together, and that is how the apostle speaks here: "Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart." There is no difficulty really in finding these. If we follow these principles, we cannot fail to find them. The practical test is the real one, and in the order of the words here; for, as we may be sure, they are important in a matter like this. Thus righteousness stands necessarily at the beginning. If there is not righteousness in our practical walk, no matter what else there may be claim to, it is not a walk with God. The separation from iniquity means of necessity the following righteousness. After this we can speak of faith, but not before it.
But then righteousness is not a sufficient principle, however a necessary one. It is absolutely necessary to refuse unrighteousness, but it is not enough simply to follow righteousness. A mere rule of right and wrong is not a rule for a Christian; that is, what is right cannot be determined in this way. "Faith" marks the need of having the distinct path which the Lord has for each of His own, and which we must take up, therefore, as from Him. God has His mind with regard to each one of us, which a mere following of what in itself might be right would ignore. A path of faith is one in which I am distinctly before God for myself. I cannot have faith for another, nor another for me; and yet it is surely as true that if two persons walk, each one with this personal reference to God's will in everything, they will necessarily be brought together. Their path will be the same path characteristically.
Love follows righteousness and faith. It is only when these are observed that the heart is free to manifest itself. Love must be guarded by these, or it becomes a mere human affection, or mere laxity. There is nothing, perhaps, that needs so much guarding, as we see in the apostle John's first epistle, as this matter of love. It is pleaded on opposite sides for things most opposite. "By this we know," says the apostle, "that we love the children of God when we love God." But can we be trusted to know just what love to God is? Why, "this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." There is no love apart from obedience, and therefore love, of necessity, makes us walk in faith and in righteousness. The issue here is peace, which must be upon terms which consist with the honor of the Lord; and we know that He who is the Prince of Peace, over whom, when He came into the world, the angels had their chorus of "Peace on earth," yet had to say, "I came not to send peace, but a sword." Peace was in His heart, but peace with evil was for Him impossible.
Thus, then, those that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart are clearly marked out. We can only discern the heart in the practical life; and here are those who, naming the name of the Lord, withdraw from iniquity. We have here, therefore, the company of those who can walk with one another, necessarily a company more and more separate from the great mass of profession round about them, and it may be comparatively a smaller and smaller company as the days darken and evil increases, the love of many waxing cold. But there is need of further guiding as to things which may have often a special reference to those who have learned that they have to prove all things if they would "hold fast that which is good." This, too, might degenerate into needless and idle questions, things debated about, which gender unnecessary strife; and in this sense "the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle towards all, apt to teach, forbearing, in meekness setting right those that oppose themselves." It is very plain that there may be the advocacy of that which is in itself right and true, nay, most important, and yet in a far different spirit from this. The testing of things must be really in order to "take forth the precious from the vile," and therefore the occupation must be with that which is precious, and the owning of that which is so, even when it is found in connection with what is far otherwise. How blessed to know that as this is the Lord's rule for His people, we may be perfectly sure it is that of His own action towards all. In fact, it is as taking forth the precious from the vile that we shall "be as His mouth." We shall be able to speak for Him, in His name, who could speak of a Lot in Sodom as a "righteous man," who, "seeing and hearing, vexed. his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;" and yet Lot certainly was not one who separated himself, according to the divine thought, from the iniquity that he judged. Why was he there, to vex his soul with it? How many there are who vex themselves with things, (and congratulate themselves upon this,) — things that they should simply turn their back upon and leave, but which they will not! Yet God owns all that He can own. If He did not, how sad a thing it would be for any of us, when we realize the apostle's own words, that even one's unconsciousness of anything wrong is not that which justifies us, "but He that judgeth is the Lord." With hearts so capable of deception as our own hearts are, how well to realize that there is One who is "greater than our heart, and knoweth all things," but One who will, therefore, not confound even the least bit of good that He can find with the evil which may seem almost to envelop it. The mere chafing of the soul by evil does not give power over it. The one who is really with God will always, as the apostle shows us here, be looking for the work of God amongst those from whom he may have to be entirely separate. Yet God may some time give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth, and we must be careful that by our own conduct we put no hindrance in the way of their recovery. Be it that they are in the snare of the devil, yet they may awake up out of it, even those at present taken captive by him for his will.
Division 4. (2 Tim. 3.)
The testing every way.
The apostle goes on now to the last days. He anticipates no recovery, save that of individuals, from the state of things which he has brought before us. On the contrary, men will "wax worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived." It is quite true that God has again and again, as history shows us, come in for the deliverance of numbers, and we are prone to take this as encouragement to believe that there may be, after all, a recovery of the mass. Scripture gives no hope of such a condition. The history of Israel under the Judges is that which is being repeated today; and here we see that, in spite of all that God may work in this way, still there is, on the whole, more and more, a growing degeneracy and departure from God.
1. In the last days, then, — days which cannot be succeeded, therefore, by any of a different character, — difficult times would be present, a state of things characterized by almost all that characterized the heathenism of old, as the apostle has pictured it for us in the epistle to the Romans. This in itself would be only the repetition, therefore, of what has existed before, and people might still ask, "Is the world, in fact, growing worse?" "Have not these things always been?" The thing that distinguishes the last days from all that have preceded them is, that with the indulgence of every evil lust, men "lovers of their own selves, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God," there is still a "form of piety," but which denies the power of it. This is what we find in days like the present, the wearing out of Christianity in its power to affect the masses, — even to keep under real control the evil which more and more displays itself in its true character. Along with this, the form of piety may, nevertheless, have been spread. Mere open ungodliness carries its own condemnation with it, and therefore men will deceive themselves to the uttermost in a way most palpable to all outside themselves, and grace be turned effectually by them into license. From these, says the apostle, turn away. The show of piety is, of course, just what makes the times so difficult. Everywhere, things are not what they seem. The process of corruption was already beginning in the days of the apostle himself. He could point to those who entered into houses, leading captive silly women laden with sin, led by various lusts; always learning," upon the one hand; and yet "never able to come to the knowledge of the truth." A solemn reason this is, indeed, for lack of progress wherever it exists. It is not in any weakness of mind; it is not by any power of deception, even, on the part of others; nothing of this can deceive those who are not, first of all, self-deceived — who do not yield themselves, in fact, to the deception. Man is always in this sense master of himself, and God judges him as this. Whatever may be the power of the enemy, the skill of the god of this age in blinding men so as to shut out the glory of Christ from them, yet it is only the disobedient and unbelieving from whom he can shut it out. God has not delivered man over into his hands in such a way as not to allow escape to be always possible and sure to the soul that in the consciousness of its need will turn to Him.
2. The character of the opposition is still further dwelt upon. "As Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so these, also, withstand the truth." It was by the imitation of the miracles wrought by Moses that the Egyptian sorcerers sought to blind, and did blind, the king of Egypt. Juggling, of course, it was, and no true miracle; and no deliverance at all was even attempted by them. They could only increase the evil by what they did, and not relieve it. They could bring frogs up out of the river, but they could not take them away. They could turn water into blood, or seem to do so, but could never turn back the blood into water. Thus they could not possibly unfasten the hold of judgment upon them or upon their false gods, and there came a time in which this was fully evident, in which they had themselves to own that there was the finger of God manifest; as therefore in that which they had done there was no finger of God. Just so with the deceivers that were coming in, withstanding the truth by imitations of it, but which could not imitate the blessed salvation of God, for those in conscious need of it. As "men of corrupt mind, reprobate concerning the faith," they too would come to a point in which their folly would be fully manifest. The fruit of God's blessed word, the power of His Spirit, cannot, after all, be imitated. This has its own unmistakable evidence for every one who has eyes to see. The apostle points Timothy, in view of these things, to his own "doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, endurance," in all that came upon him. His life was formed by the doctrine, and his doctrine was in the power of the Spirit of God. Out of all the persecutions the Lord had delivered him, and "all that will live piously in Christ Jesus" must expect to suffer after the same manner, while "evil men and juggling impostors" would continually "wax worse and worse." Thus there is no hope but in the coming of the Lord Himself.
3. The apostle was about to depart, but there was still an ample provision made for the sustenance of God's people, however evil the days might be. For Timothy there was the satisfaction of knowing of whom he had learned the truth, the apostle's teaching being in fullest harmony, and, indeed, the ripe fruit of what had been made known to him from a child in sacred Scriptures, able to make "wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus." Thus we see how even the apostle's words are not and could not be left to stand for themselves and be merely their own witnesses. God has been acting and speaking in the world from the beginning, and all truth must connect itself thus with that which He has been doing and saying. The Scriptures of which the apostle here speaks to Timothy, are, of course, the Old Testament Scriptures; but we see everywhere how thoroughly the apostle appeals to them, and how the written Word is in this way honored by the living speaker, even though speaking that which might be newly revealed by the Spirit of God. How important to realize this unity of the divine testimony all the way through the ages; and how clearly we can understand the effort of Satan now, first of all, to destroy, if possible, the power of that testimony from the beginning, so as to leave the Christian faith cut off really from its foundation! Scripture was, as we know, that by which the Bereans tested the word of the apostle himself, and they are commended for it.
We see, on the one hand, how the Old Testament handed on its disciples to the New, and how the New, also, was needed in order to give its full power to the older revelation. Thus, while he says that the sacred Scriptures he had known were able to make Timothy wise unto salvation, he adds: "through faith that is in Christ Jesus." In fact salvation, in all that is implied in it in the New Testament, is plainly something additional to the Old Testament. Men could not speak before Christianity of being saved, in the same way in which now we commonly speak of it. Salvation was, in general, even where we find the word, a deliverance from dangers or from circumstances of trial, from the power of the enemy, no doubt; but scarcely anywhere a proper salvation from sin; yet how important the witness of the old revelation when the new was being announced, and to us, also, to whom it has been announced! Nothing that God has given but has a permanent value which remains for us to all time. "All Scripture is inspired of God, and profitable for doctrine."
Here we come to a passage which is most contested, of course, and which we are told we have to read as, "Every scripture inspired of God," as if it distinguished such from other scriptures side by:side with them, and therefore we had to distinguish in like manner. At once the human mind is set in supremacy over the Scripture, and we become judges of it instead of its judging us. But the apostle has been already pointing out the sacred Scriptures of which he is speaking when he says "All Scripture." Nothing is Scripture in the sense he uses the word except that which is in the sacred Scriptures, and nothing that is in them is without that inspiration of God which makes it "profitable for doctrine, for conviction, for correction, for instruction in righteousness." The apostle Peter afterwards speaks of Paul having written to the Hebrews "according to the wisdom given to him," and puts the epistle that he had written among "the other Scriptures" — plainly as having the same character which is claimed for "all Scripture" here. The word, of course, may mean merely "writing," but "The Writings," for us, are those distinguished from all other writings. It is impossible to confound them, for a soul that has the secret of God, though Rome has added, as we know, certain apocryphal books — yet who, with his eyes open, could accept one of them as upon an equal footing with those that have always been counted as Scripture? Who could add one book to the number of those that we possess? or who could mend one of them so as to justify his emendation to the Christian conscience?
Of course, I am not speaking of the correction of texts, where there is manuscript authority for the correction, but simply of a correction manifestly from man's mind, with all the learning in it which they boast of in the present day. When can they give us a Bible in this way that even they (who as specialists are supposed to have authority to commend it for us) will be able to agree about amongst themselves? Scripture has suffered, indeed, how much from the ignorance that we have of it, and from the little faith which has produced the ignorance! We have found little instruction, it may be, and no edification, from many parts that can be pointed out; and it is man's way continually either to throw the blame of this upon God, or to vindicate Him at the expense of the Word that He has given; but the more we search into these barren passages with the remembrance of what the apostle has spoken here, the more we shall find how truly there is in them also that which is of ample importance to justify their place in the word of God; and if we cannot find even a genealogy recorded to be "profitable for doctrine," it is (to say the least, most probably it is,) because we have begun by decreeing that it is not there, and therefore have never truly and devoutly searched for it. But the fact is, the higher the claim we make for Scripture, the more shall we find Scripture itself justifying the claim. The more we believe in the perfection of every part, the more we shall come to realize that perfection everywhere in it. Let us hold it fast that all Scripture, as inspired of God, is in fact, and must be, "profitable for doctrine." God in it all is providing for us that which shall have blessing for our souls, not mere facts of history or something which is merely barren knowledge, but that which is to mold and fashion us, and put us in communion with the mind of Christ. For this we need every part of it, and it is the loss of so much practically for our souls that makes us so much lacking in true knowledge of every kind.
Let us notice that, first of all, the apostle puts the doctrine as that for which Scripture is "profitable." Doctrine must come first, as the basis of everything. Truth must be ours before there can be the application of truth; and then, let us notice that the apostle immediately brings that application home in a personal way to ourselves. The first use of the doctrine is for "conviction." It is light that shines upon us, shines upon all the road in which we are, but which discovers, necessarily, in a world like this, among a people such as we are, that which must humble and bring down all the pride of our hearts, so that not as philosophers shall we receive it, but as sinners, though, through God's grace, saved sinners also. But "conviction" here, of course, is not the primary conviction merely. As we go on, it accompanies us at every step. We learn ourselves under this light more and more, and we learn what the world is. But the light is none the less blessed on that account, because it displays the evil of so much that it shines upon. "Correction" is that which is to follow "conviction," while "instruction in righteousness" carries us on to the positive side of things, and occupies us with the good in itself, and not merely enables us to distinguish it from the evil. But thus the man of God is by Scripture itself made complete, "thoroughly furnished to every good work."
It does not say, as we have often insisted upon, that every man may be complete, although Paul's heart would indeed desire that it might be possible to "present every man perfect in Christ Jesus;" yet it is only as men of God that we can be thus complete, thus furnished. If we are not that, we shall inevitably stumble over Scripture, in some part of it, as "they that are unlearned and undisciplined," Peter tells us, do. Scripture is not written so that every one, apart from his moral condition altogether, may be able to possess himself of it, and it is not, indeed, written so that every one may, with a little pains, understand the whole. It speaks, as we know, with the sweetest familiarity, and with the encouragement that is ever of God; but it manifests itself, nevertheless, as that which is beyond us, higher than ourselves, the revelation of One who necessarily is that, and whose ways and thoughts we may be led on into more and more, just because they are always still beyond us. But how wonderful, then, is this "God-breathed" Scripture, as the word "inspired" means! It is in this sense that we can call it all the word of God. There is no need for overlooking and no comfort in overlooking the human element, but that human element is always penetrated with the divine, and lifted into and empowered for that which is higher than man, and beyond him.
Division 5. (2 Tim. 4.)
The departure of Paul.
The last division is very characteristic of the whole epistle. It brings before us explicitly that which was before the apostle himself in everything he wrote here — his own departure from that scene in which he had so well fought the fight of faith and had now finished his course. The sorrow that he might have in his soul now was only for those he was leaving, and even that is almost swallowed up in the joyful consciousness of with Whom he was leaving them. Whatever might be, in fact, the declension that had begun, and the disastrous days which were before the Church, still, even so, the One to whom he was now going was Master of every circumstance, and would know how to glorify Himself as to all that could possibly come; aye, even as to the mistakes and failure and sins of His people; and to use even the apparently triumphant power of the enemy to do this. The whole epistle is characterized in this way by the spirit of power and of joy, of which he has spoken to Timothy; and it is this that gave him, and will give us, that sound mind which is the accompaniment of such a spirit. He in no wise made light of any of the evil; he could not do that. Evil remains evil, though God must glorify Himself about it; but, for the soul that in the consciousness of it turns to Him, there remains always a living, abiding and eternal God; and if we are with Him, there will be with us, of necessity, the joy of the final triumph all the way through. Yet this departure of Paul characterizes the state of things in which we are left; no more with apostolic power or with those whom God used as the instruments of His revelation, but in weakness, cleaving fast to that written Word only, without apparent positive intervention in our behalf.
1. But the word is, all the more, "Be strong." The difficulties are but to summon forth the strength which must indeed be in God, or it will be all too little. But He cannot fail us; and thus the apostle exhorts the disciple here, in view of One who is about to judge the living and the dead, and to appear Himself in order to take that kingdom, which will never be right save when it is in His hands absolutely. He is to "preach the Word, be urgent in season, out of season, to convict, rebuke, encourage, with all long-suffering and doctrine;" all the more that "the time will be when men will not bear sound doctrine, but after their own lusts will heap to themselves teachers, having an itching ear, and will turn away their ear from the truth and turn to fables." How plain that Timothy's consolation is not to be drawn from circumstances, but from those eternal realities which we need to have ever before us, but which, as we realize them, possess and command the soul, imparting to it the abiding character of that eternity to which they belong.
The judgment of the living, with many, has but little place as distinguished from that judgment of the dead, which has comparatively much less place in Scripture. The great fact kept before us is that Christ is coming; but at that coming, He will judge the living and not yet the dead, and the forgetfulness of His coming as a constant expectation is that which has, in fact, put the judgment as a whole into the far-off distance, while it has confounded saint with sinner, and lost, therefore, the distinguishing blessing of faith in Christ. The judgment of the living plainly connects with the appearing of Christ; that of the dead, with the kingdom that follows it. The apostle urges these upon Timothy as what would, amid all the difficulties of the way, be his strength and assurance. It is always according to Scripture, "yet, but a little while, and He that will come shall come, and shall not tarry." We look back and see how long it has been, and we take this to make the distance behind us put distance into that which is before us. The apostle's way for us would be rather that we should say, "The night is far spent, and the day is at hand." We may, after all, go to the Lord before He comes to us, but we shall not have missed the good of having been in the meanwhile "like unto men that wait for their Lord." The whole character of our Christianity will be affected by our "holding fast," or practically losing sight of His coming, as our constant expectation. With the sense of all this upon his soul, Timothy was to preach the Word, not the gospel simply, but the whole Word committed to him. How rare a thing is this! How few, in fact, take up the Word as a whole, to put it honestly in its entirety — so far as we may be able, to bring it all before the souls of others! Even with those who are not lacking in their apprehension of the gospel, that very gospel may be taken so as to limit the truth preached, and to get rid of how much that God certainly has in His own wisdom given for our instruction! How important a thing to be able to say, as Paul could say, that we have kept nothing back, but that, in the assurance that God has given us His Word, we have preached that Word faithfully! Timothy was to do this with the utmost urgency, "in season, out of season;" that is, there was to be no season at all; any time was the right time. That, of course, does not mean that among those outside, and, alas, under the power of Satan, there are not seasons, as other texts have shown us, which have to be laid hold of in order to reach those who at other times may be inaccessible; but amongst the people of God especially (and when we speak of preaching the Word, we must, of course, take these all in) Satan has no rightful power to shut out the truth from any. We need wisdom still, of course, in ministering the Word, according to the need which we may find in souls, and according to what they may be able to bear of it; but still the Word is for all times and for all the people of God, and we cannot count those His people who have no ears to hear it.
Again, we find conviction and rebuke as that which would necessarily spring — and, one may say, in the very first place — out of the preaching of the Word. Encouragement follows, but only for those who have hearts to accept whatever correction the word of God may bring. With souls that refuse the discipline of it, there can be no comfort rightly or safely given. Amid it all, there would be need of all long-suffering and constant teaching, all the more because the time would come when they would not bear sound teaching; but, on the contrary, after their own lusts, would heap to themselves teachers. Is it not true that the systems into which we have so largely got, really favor this devotion of people to teachers of their own choice, when they should have ears for every message that comes from God, whoever the messenger may be? But, ah, walls and fences shut out those who have not special liberty to come in, and permit the hearers inside to sit down undisturbed by that which, perhaps, is the very thing that God would have them hear. The general effect would be, as the apostle says here, to turn away the ears from the truth, and to turn them to fables.
2. Timothy, then, was to be sober in all things, to "suffer affliction," and to "do the work of an evangelist," to make full proof of his ministry in every part. Paul himself was leaving him. "I am already being poured out," he says — his own beautiful reference, no doubt, as we find in Philippians, to the drink-offering poured out upon the sacrifice. That which was used in it was the wine of joy, and the apostle so expresses it to the Philippians. If he was poured out upon the sacrifice and service of their faith, he would joy and rejoice with them all. Here it is not exactly the being poured out upon the sacrifice of others, but there is the same joy in it, as he contemplates the time of his departure having come. It was that "departing and being with Christ," of which he has already told us that it was "far better." Conflict he had had enough, but, even so, it had been a good fight. The fight was not to be regretted, but looked back upon with satisfaction. Nevertheless, it was a joy to have finished the course, and to realize that the faith which had been committed to him he had, by the grace of God, kept from all that would assail it. The crown of righteousness was now awaiting him from the Lord, the righteous Judge; when, indeed, not only he will receive his recompense, but also, as he says here, "all those who love His appearing." It is Christ's appearing that in this connection is most suited to what he has before him, for it is at His appearing that He gets what is His own, and when everything will appear in its true character. And then He bestows the rewards. This is always the way in which Scripture connects these things. He comes to take us to Himself; but the rewards are put rather as in connection with the kingdom. Every one in it will receive his place in due recognition of the work that he has done. There are, of course, things which are common to all the people of God, and which we have got to keep carefully apart from the thought of their being in this sense a reward at all. They are the reward of Christ's work indeed; but there has been here great confusion. The place in the Father's house is not a place which is determined by the value of whatever work we have been enabled to do. The nearness of children to the Father is not according to the appraisal of their work, but the outflow of His own heart towards those who are begotten of His own Spirit, and all of them, in this, the mere subjects of divine grace. So, too, the belonging to Christ as members of His body is the portion of all the saints of the present time; all make part of the bride, of which the apostle speaks as that Church which He loves, and for which He has given Himself. These are things which have been more or less confounded on the part of those from whom we should have little expected it. The fruit of Christ's work must also be, of necessity, far beyond any fruit of our own; and thus it is a comfort indeed to realize that that which we shall have and enjoy together is far beyond anything that can possibly distinguish us from one another. God's best gifts, even in nature, are those that He bestows most widely; and yet we are not to make light of those special rewards of which Scripture certainly does not make light, and which have so much their sweetness from the fact of their coming from His hand who has Himself fought the great fight and entered into His rest.
But to love His appearing goes much further than the thought of any reward that one may find at that time. His appearing is that which is to bring the Day for the whole earth. It is the time when evil is to be put down with a strong hand, but that the love of God may be able to show itself according to His desire. It is the time when Christ Himself will be glorified, and everything put in subjection under His feet. Whatever special appeal there may be to us in the thought of our being caught up to meet Him in the air, yet, if we look at Scripture, we shall find that the appearing of the Lord, or His revelation, is that which is much more dwelt upon; and we can understand it surely in this way. We shall be with Him in that Day, and how blessed will it be to see the rightful King upon His throne, the earth subject to Him whom it has refused; the wilderness at His coming breaking out into blossom and harvest, and everything in the hands of Him who is the "Father of eternity," who is to fashion all things according to the Father's will, so that they shall be eternal! Righteousness will then, indeed, be, at last, upon an absolute throne, and the crown of righteousness be the recompense of all who love His appearing.
3. The apostle goes on now to what is more personal to himself. We see the circumstances in which he is, and how little they can minister of comfort to him. Demas, mentioned elsewhere as a fellow-laborer, had now forsaken him, drawn away by the love of the present age, and was in Thessalonica. Cresces had gone to Galatia, Titus was in Dalmatia. There is no reproach attaching to their absence from him, but they were absent. Only Luke, the so constant companion of his journeys and labors, as the Acts shows him — Luke was with him. There is a joyful word with regard to Mark, whom he desires Timothy to bring with him as one serviceable to him for ministry. Tychicus he had himself sent to Ephesus. He needs for his comfort the cloak which he had left behind in Troas, with Carpus; and he has need of his books, especially the parchments, the material of which naturally points out the importance of what was written upon them. He remembers the evil done him by Alexander the smith, probably the one whom we have seen at Ephesus. The Lord would recompense him according to his works; but Timothy had need to be upon his guard against him as one who had greatly withstood the apostle's words. More sorrowfully still, but in another spirit, he thinks of that first answer of his before the Roman Emperor, in which no man, even from among the brethren, stood with him, but all forsook him. He prays that it may not be laid to their charge. But there was One who stood with him, in Himself all-sufficient in place of any others; and He made this the very opportunity that the preaching should be fully known, and the nations should hear it; and for that time he was delivered out of the mouth of the lion. But, indeed, from every evil work He would deliver him, and preserve him unto His heavenly kingdom. The deliverance might take, as is plain, very different forms, and that which was, after all, to be his great deliverance might seem to be the very reverse; but God makes all things work together for good to those that love Him, and, His own soul, conscious of this nearing departure, breaks out in praise to Him to whom shall be the glory of the ages of ages.
He greets finally Prisca and Aquila, his old companions, and the house of the Onesiphorus of whom we have heard him speaking. Erastus had remained in Corinth, and Trophimus he had left in Miletus sick. We see that whatever miraculous power was in the Church, it was not made use of to make every saint comfortable in this life, nor, necessarily, to enable him to minister to the comfort of others either. The apostle felt, no doubt, the absence of Trophimus; but he has not a word of reproof for him, nor a thought of murmuring with regard to it. But his heart longs once more to see Timothy, and again he bids him use diligence to come to him.
He closes with greetings from those around him and from all the brethren, and prays that the Lord might be with his spirit, energizing and controlling it. He ends with a prayer for him, that he might have the grace at all times so needful.