It would be well, before looking at the subject at the head of this paper, to notice the two things that Timothy was to call to remembrance in the eighth verse of chapter 2; for without these there can be no perseverance in that which is (apparently to men) a losing game, but which shall end in victory.
"Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel," says the apostle; and here we have the two grand truths mentioned in Romans 1:3, 4. God has acted in resurrection power in raising up Jesus; and those who in the early morning visited the tomb in Joseph's garden, beheld the terrible sepulchre - that sealed stronghold of death - broken open, and its power gone!
The only epitaph that could have been put upon that gravestone would have been, "He is not here, but is risen." It is good for us to remember Jesus Christ raised from the dead, for God is acting by that very same power which resuscitates the dead, in all that He is now doing for the glory of His Son. We need to know this power, and to depend upon Him who is using it amidst all the present confusion.
There is the second point; that is, that Jesus Christ came of the seed of David; and we know that this refers to the faithfulness of God, who, if He makes promises - as He did to David and to his seed - will most surely accomplish them. He does not make promises, as we do, and then break them, but performs what He has said.
So that we have these two great facts to rest upon even in the present day:
1. The power of the resurrection;
2. The faithfulness of God;
and they form a wonderful ground of action.
Remember thus Jesus Christ! This is necessary, for the Holy Spirit speaks in what follows of patient work for Him, and of identification with Him in His death and life, in His sufferings and glory. There is this most blessed service and personal knowledge of Him with whom we have to do; the present confession of His name and hearty service, or the reverse; and disputes about words to be judged. This is a very solemn passage.
And now our subject is introduced. Timothy was to study to present himself to God, a workman not ashamed, expounding rightly the Word of God; one must be in God's presence to be able to cut in a straight line. Evil was developing, and error coming in rapidly, but nevertheless the foundation of God standeth sure; and much has been said of the two sides of the seal attached to this.
"The Lord knoweth them that are His" is the upper side, and this assurance gives great rest to the spirit of a workman: it will keep him from hiding under a juniper-bush, and from complaining that he alone is left.* The other, or lower side of the seal, must govern all our conduct; it is the first step to be taken by the faithful on to the ground of true testimony at the present time, and must characterise the walk up to the end. "Let every one that nameth the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
*See the description of Elijah's flight in the Christian Friend, January, 1893.
Now comes the illustration of the great house, and I conceive that no one who reads this has any doubt as to the meaning of the figure. All Christendom is taken in here; all that professes to own the lordship of Christ, the Master alluded to in the 21st verse. The house is His; that is, His name is owned in it, and the vessels belong to Him, at least nominally. (The most ignorant bigot in the Neapolitan States will at once recognise Christ as the Master and Judge of all, at least as an outward profession.) There are vessels of gold and silver - vessels to honour, and these the Master uses, when they are in a fit state for use. There are vessels of wood and earth - vessels to dishonour; it is not said that such are used of the Master. The great point is the being fit for His use, and this can only be by a true separation from the vessels to dishonour. Here it is that exercise must come, for one cannot by any means get outside of the great house. It is not merely a question of having a different religion to Jews, Turks, and pagans, but of being morally separate from that which is dishonouring to Christ in Christendom.
This is of the very highest importance, for the question will really come to this: Is it possible to be separate from evil, and, without being a Pharisee, to be standing apart from what is not of the Lord in the great house? Again: Can such a testimony be sustained? Is there such a thing now, or has everything come to such a point, that there is positively no real testimony to Christ in Christendom?
The first question is answered at once by the 21st verse: "if a man therefore purge himself from these [vessels to dishonour], he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work." There is no pharisaism here, but true separation from evil, and a consequent moral fitness for that which is good; the vessel can he now employed by the Master as being useful, prepared for what He is doing in the midst of all that goes on in the great house. A testimony such as I have spoken of cannot be carried out without the Lord's own sustaining power and intervention, and here we find an answer to the other questions; the next verse speaks clearly of this. There is the recognition of the Lord's authority as the One who alone is Son over the house of God; there is the pursuit of justice, faith, love, and peace with those who call upon the Lord out of a pure heart.
There is no attempt on the part of the faithful to rearrange the great house (many have tried this and utterly failed), but real individual exercise and purifying oneself from evil, then identification with those who are subject to the Lord, and the pursuing of what is good, beginning with righteousness and ending with peace.
Notice that it is not "peace at any price," but that justice, faith, and love come first.
It will be said that there has been terrible failure, and this we may well confess, to our shame; but the question is whether there be any true testimony to Christ and any true Christianity in the midst of the great house, and I am bold to say that 1 believe that the Lord will sustain a few to the very end, in the position described in verse 22. Though the failure may have been great in the pursuit of justice, faith, love, and peace, yet the Lord has not given up the feeble few who sincerely call upon His name, and who acknowledge His lordship in the midst of all that is foreign to His thoughts in the great house.
May the thought of His faithfulness sustain us! May we be kept from every attempt at building or forming things anew! But, understanding our place, as subject to the Lord, in the midst of the pretentious edifice that shall soon be judged and end in ruin, may we be found morally fit for His service, and pursuing that which is good. All that is not of Him in Christendom must be judged, and He alone can sustain a feeble and broken remnant which trusts in His name, and calls upon it still. E. L. Bevir.
After we have learnt the blessedness of having the Lord with us in our circumstances, He leads us on to the higher joy of fellowship with Himself in His interests. He first sups with us, and then we with Him.