We are passing through a period which is very distinctly delineated in Scripture as "perilous times" of "the last days," and for which special instruction is vouchsafed. The rocks and shoals, with which the troubled waters of our time abound, are all divinely marked out for us in that epistle which faith recognises as its special chart in days like these. The fulness and explicit nature of that revelation is most blessed; nothing is overlooked; the difficulties are neither magnified nor diminished; and the power and presence of God are held out to faith as its sufficiency when the darkness is at its height.
We find, in the Second Epistle of Timothy, most full and minute directions as to how the saints are to carry themselves. The path of the true-hearted is through persecution, pressure, and trial; evil men and seducers waxing worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived. One principle of immense importance is found in chapter 2:19: "Nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure, having the seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity."
Another is, that "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, and for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished to all good works." (Chap. 3:16.)
Thus, while there is nothing but failure around, and confusion and evil are on the increase, the resources and provisional care of God are unfolded with a divine precision and accuracy not to be found outside the book of God.
Now it is plain that the servant of the Lord stands in need of peculiar qualities at all times; indeed nothing that has ever been written or conceived by man could overrate, or magnify beyond its importance, the servant's place and path. And there never were times in which it was more needful to press that than the present, surrounded as we are by a double fallacy: on the one hand, men taking upon themselves, without any divine right or authority, to make others servants, thereby constituting them servants of men instead of ministers of God. On the other hand, those who in mercy have escaped this delusion, are themselves as ready to fall into another, and to suppose that every one who is a saint is ipso facto a gifted servant or minister of Jesus Christ.
Now it cannot be denied that, if saints are walking with God, He will give them something to do for Him, whereby, in communion with Himself, and by the power of His Spirit, they can serve Him; and in this sense all saints are servants of the Lord, but this in no wise interferes with, or sets aside, the fact, that Christ, ascended on high into glory, gave distinct and special gifts to His church, enumerated in Ephesians 4. "Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, into the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ."
Now it is the qualities of the one who is called to be a servant of this kind that I am occupied with at this time. I suppose the nature of the day will very greatly indicate the needed graces; and hence it is, I conclude, that, after the Spirit of God had foretold the storm that was then raging, and would rage with greater fury after the apostle's departure, He also specifies in detail certain qualities which would be indispensable in the servant of the Lord, who would in respect to these be tested to the uttermost.
Now this world has been the scene and platform of the perfect service of One who was the perfect Servant; the gospels, and especially that of Mark, record it. There we follow Him, and track His patient blessed footprints, passing through the earth a stranger, unnoticed and unknown; but, more than that, despised and rejected by Israel, whose Messiah He was, and scorned and hated by poor man whom He came to serve. If we look at Him as Jehovah's servant, how the heart bows down and adores Him: "Behold my servant, whom I have chosen; my beloved, in whom my soul is well pleased; I will put my Spirit upon him; he shall not strive, nor cry; neither shall any man hear his voice in the streets." (Matt. 12:18, 19.) Oh, what unobtrusive lowliness and meek retirement thus mark Him!
Again, when we consider Him amid the scenes of sorrow, scorn, and hatred, through which His love led Him; His patience, His meekness, His gentleness, silent when accused, and unchanged even when denied by His own, breaking the heart of Peter by the tender look He cast upon him; do you not wonder and adore in the presence of such qualities, with such demands made upon them by foes and friends? and is it not a satisfaction to your heart to retire from all else, and allow such a Servant as Jesus to fill the vision of your soul?
There is nothing that more marks every one else but Himself, than unevenness; He, and He alone, was a stranger to such, not only in His manhood, but in that which is specially before us, His service. Who was faithful as He? and yet withal tender and patient. The combination of these qualities in Christ is most blessed; the fine flour mingled with oil showed itself in His service, as in His nature. With us, alas! observe the contrast. Some are faithful and others are tender. But what God is looking for in these last times is a servant in his measure after the pattern of His own Son; and hence note that the qualities, or graces, by which the servant of the Lord is to be characterised, according to 2 Timothy 2, are those exactly which shone in perfection in Him who was the perfect Servant as the perfect Man; God, God over all, blessed for ever.
Now observe the qualities which are needed by the servant of the Lord. First of all, full and unhesitating courage and faithfulness. He was to be "strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." If everything has gone, and all have turned away, Christ remains unchanged. What a resource He is at all times, blessed be His name! And what force and power there is in an exhortation of this nature from one who himself could speak of how the Lord stood with him, and strengthened him, when he was abandoned and forsaken by all.
Also he was to "endure hardness," and not to "entangle himself with the affairs of this life." That is to say, on the one hand he was to accept, in all its parts, the path through the storm and tempest; and, not only that, but he was to be inured to it.
On the other hand, he was to shun and avoid everything of the nature of entanglement. So that we have these three things expected from the servant of the Lord and the minister of Jesus Christ.
First: patient endurance. Second: distinct separation from all that would be incompatible with his service. Third: an ardent desire to answer to the wishes of his Master.
Again: "If a man strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." That is, he cannot obtain the prize unless he complies with the regulations. Now these regulations insisted upon systematic discipline and training as indispensable qualifications for entering upon the lists; history furnishes us with the particulars of the training which the competitors in the Greek athletic sports underwent; the diet, exercise, fixed hours, and hard life which were endured in order to obtain a corruptible crown. So the servant of the Lord in these days of ease, affluence, and self indulgence, is to practise the very contrary on himself; in order that, according to the will of his Lord, he may exercise his ministry and service.
He was also to be as the husbandman, "labouring first," that he might have the first claim to the profits of the produce of his farm.
Then the first part of the exhortation is closed by that magnificent eighth verse: "Remember Jesus Christ of the seed of David, raised from among the dead, according to my glad tidings." How blessed this is to have the heart and thoughts, by the Holy Ghost, thus fixed on that blessed One, that perfect Servant, who, from the manger to the cross, served through suffering, sorrow, shame, contempt, and is now presented to the adoring gaze of faith as "raised from among the dead!"
"By Thine empty grave we worship,
By Thy cross our hearts we bow;
All the memories which pursue us
Waken our affections now.
Lord we follow — Thou constrainest,
Step by step, and hour by hour;
Object of our hearts in glory;
On the way, our strength and power."
So far we have looked at the qualities — the indispensable requirements — of the servant of the Lord in perilous times. As yet we have not touched upon the spirit in which these qualities are to be exercised, the tone and the temper in which the faithful servant is to address himself to his work. But it will be readily granted, that, in proportion to a man's courage and faithfulness in a time of general declension and spiritual decay, will be the pressure brought to bear upon his spirit. Endurance, tenderness, meekness, will have large demands made upon them; and standing faithful will expose the servant to those rude blasts which will only elicit, if they be there, the qualities I have spoken of.
It is not enough to be faithful in dealing with souls; the manner and method of its display surely has its place. The tone and temper of the servant in the faithful exercise of his gift, surely are important. Very touching are the words of the apostle on this head. "Now I Paul myself, beseech you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ." Again: "But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children."
No doubt, in days of declension and faithfulness, the true servant must pass through many a sore exercise respecting those whom he seeks to serve, and many a trial and many an anxiety will his heart endure in connection with such; but, while that is fully admitted and felt to the utmost, it cannot but be felt, that a little more of the tone and temper of 2 Timothy 2 would secure the absence of many a pang which true and faithful hearts have inflicted upon themselves; and some we may have thought to drive, instead of leading and instructing, might have been won, when they could not be coerced. Alas! there are too many instances of hearts sad and broken amid the corruptions of the age, retarded on their way, whilst they groped about to find a clean path for their weary feet, as well as grieved and stumbled as they sought to walk therein, by the ungracious and unwise methods adopted towards them. "Feed my lambs;" "Shepherd my sheep;" "Feed my sheep;" are the terms of the blessed Lord's commission to restored Peter. The shepherd and the nurse are the similitudes employed by the Holy Ghost, when he would set forth the manner of a servant's fulfilment of his work. "Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof."
If any who read this paper turn away in their mind from what they most likely will regard as common-place truisms, I can only plead as my excuse for introducing the subject here, the great danger of its being overlooked.
No doubt the peculiar character of these days makes large demands on the servant; but be the trials ever so many, and disappointments ever so great, nothing can compensate for the absence of such a spirit as is implied in these words: "And the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness, instructing those that oppose themselves."
I might have urged the patient, gracious dealings of the chief Shepherd and Bishop of souls Himself, as the type and pattern for those whom He has gifted with a view to the leading and helping of His sheep. Or I might have urged the same blessed tender care of Him who is Head of the church, His body, towards His poor members here. "No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourisheth it, and cherisheth it, even as the Lord the church" — but I forbear.
One other scripture only will I refer to, namely, Ezekiel 34:2-6. "Woe be to the shepherds of Israel that do feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with the wool, ye kill them that are fed; but ye feed not the flock. The diseased have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought again that which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but with force and with cruelty have ye ruled them. And they were scattered, because there is no shepherd: and they became meat to all the beasts of the field when they were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains, and upon every hill: Yea, my flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and none did search or seek after them."
And now, beloved reader, ere we part company, may I ask you what place have the church of God and the servants of Christ in your thoughts? in what light do you regard them? Do you think of them in reference to Christ or to yourself? Do you pray for them? The Lord make His beloved saints and servants more wise, more gracious, more patient in all things, more self-denying and devoted, more uncompromising and whole-hearted in these last evil days.