Every dispensation of God, i.e. every special dealing of God with men, ends in failure. Not that there is any failure in the dispensation itself, for the dispensation is of God, and in it lies boundless blessing for man, the creature, were he inclined to submit himself to the terms proposed in the goodness of God, his beneficent Creator. But apart from a work of sovereign grace wrought in the souls of men, they have never even desired to avail themselves of the blessings proposed by the dispensation. Hence, because of what man is, a rebel in mind and heart against his Maker, every dispensation closes in the judgment of those who have been in the privileged sphere, a remnant only being delivered from the wrath which falls upon the mass who refuse to avail themselves of the blessings of the particular dispensation in which they have lived.
The antediluvian world, to whom a way of blessing through sacrifice was intimated, and attested by the altar of Abel, sinned against the precious light, went in the way of Cain, and filled the earth with corruption and violence, until the wickedness of man was such a grief to the heart of God that He repented that He had made him (Gen. 6). A flood of water brought this world to a conclusion, Noah and his house only being saved through the universal deluge.
The Patriarchal dispensation fared no better. It ended in the heirs of promise being found bond-slaves in Egypt, under the tyrannical power of the oppressor Pharaoh. Afar from the land to which God had called Abram, and which He had given him for a possession, his heirs are found toiling in the brick kilns of Egypt.
The dispensation of law, which began at Sinai, comes to no better end than others. The protomartyr, Stephen, sums up the iniquity of that people in these terrible words: “Ye stiff-necked and uncircumcized in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which showed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and have not kept it” (Acts 7). In the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans, a portion of that judgment, which has yet to be poured out in full measure upon that privileged people, was executed.
The coming dispensation, the reign of Christ, though nothing will fail in His hands, will end like all the others. During that reign of righteousness the devil will be bound in the Abyss, and therefore unable to work mischief upon the earth. But at the close he will be loosed again, in order that the true state of those who have been for a thousand years outwardly submissive to Christ may be brought to light. And what shall be manifested then is this, that nothing but a daring leader was required to cause the great mass of humanity to rise up in rebellion against the throne of God at Jerusalem. This rebellion is brought to an end by devouring fire from heaven. Satan’s army is destroyed, and he himself is cast into the lake of fire.
The present dispensation is no exception to the rule. It is a long time since the pure gold lost its brightness and became dim, a very long time since “the multitude of them that believed were of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4:32). The violent assaults of the devil, the malice of the world, the persecutions of those in authority upon earth, made no breaches in that “wall great and high” which marked their separation to a glorified Christ. “Her Nazarites were purer than snow, they were whiter than milk, they were more ruddy in body than rubies, their polishing was of sapphire” (said of Zion, Lam. 4:7). It is the friendliness of the world, not its open and unconcealed enmity, that has done the mischief. The church soon came under the corrupting influence of the world. In Revelation 2 and 3 we get a history of its downward course. “Thou hast left thy first love” is the first step in that steep descent to complete apostasy. At the last it is spued out of the mouth of Christ, and finally comes to its end in the destruction of Babylon (Rev. 17 and 18).
To see that we are now come to the concluding days of the present dispensation may require a little spiritual discernment. I do not doubt some look upon the days in which our lot is cast as very bright days indeed. But such as do so view everything from the standpoint of nature. In their imagination man is the centre to which everything relates, and as his earthly circumstances seem to be bettered, he judges the world must be improving. But the truth is, God is the Centre of the universe, and everything must be judged by its relation to Him. Man’s primal sin was the attempt on his part to lay hold of Divinity, and that has given character to his every thought and action, from that day to this. Hence man, in his natural state, has no right thought about any moral question.
He is both clever and inventive; but he is not wise, for there is no true wisdom apart from the knowledge of God. Could he only get a sight of things in their right relation to one another, he would understand how utterly wrong about everything his previous thoughts had been, and what a world of falsehood he had been wandering in. Where he had formerly seen good, nothing but evil would be apparent; discord and ruin would confront him where he had assured himself there was nothing but harmony and prosperity. He would see how sadly he had mistaken sin for righteousness, falsehood for truth, folly for wisdom. And this would be his salvation.
But things cannot be seen rightly apart from Christ, for He is the Truth. In Him is the light which dispels all the darkness in which we are by nature. In Him a new world opens up bright before the soul. There the Creator has His rightful place, and the creature his. There everything is perfectly adjusted, according to the thought of the beneficent and righteous Ruler of the worlds. All moves there in the most perfect harmony, without the slightest discord or jar.
“There God the Centre is.
His presence fills that land,
And countless myriads owned as His,
Round Him adoring stand.”
But what about the present comfort and prosperity of the land in which we live, where waves the banner of the British Nation? To what do we owe it? Do we owe it to the natural wisdom of those who rule and legislate in the land, or is there some secret power, some mighty influence, that guides and controls the thoughts and actions of leaders who may themselves be hostile to that very influence that controls them for their good? I have not the least hesitation in saying we owe it to the Bible. This Book has done a vast deal even for those who have never availed themselves of the blessings of the gospel. It may be, and it is, like the One of whom it bears witness, despised and rejected of men, but like Him it goes about doing good, even though it be rewarded evil for its good, and hatred for its love.
In those nations which still abide in heathen darkness, what sympathy is there evinced for human suffering? or what value is set upon the life of the creature unable to help himself? And even in countries which are nominally Christian, but where the Bible is hidden from the people, do not things there remain stubbornly in the rough? and is not legislation almost without regard for the tranquillity or safety of the masses? There the strong ride mercilessly over the weak, and the weak have little or no redress. This is put down to a backward state of civilization, but the lack of civilization results from the lack of Bible light.
The Church of Rome zealously guards the Bible from the people, because that church, like its founder, rules by darkness; and to that kingdom light is utterly destructive. Hence nations under the influence of the Romish system know little of the comforts and consolations resulting from legislation by those who have the Bible in their hands, however little it may be savingly believed. Wearied with the oppression of the hierarchy, the present tendency of priest-ridden nations is to throw off the Roman yoke and to plunge into infidelity; but that is only, as we say, out of the frying-pan into the fire, and means no more than adding a little contribution to the apostasy from the faith altogether.
The apostasy is sure to come. But it will not come as long as the kernel remains in the husk; that is, as long as the body of Christ is on earth. But when the true saints of God have been removed from this scene, as they shall be at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, then the apostasy will rapidly develop. Not only the truth of the gospel, but the very name of Christ will be cast off.
And in that direction the profession of Christianity in the world today is fast advancing. In theological chairs and in the pulpits are ministers of Satan posing as ministers of righteousness (2 Cor. 2:17), tearing the Scriptures to pieces, and dazzling the multitude with flashes of spurious erudition. And as regards the subject they have chosen, on which to vent their miserable spleen, the ignorance of these theologasters is only equalled by their unparalleled conceit.
From the beginning this citadel of truth, the Assembly of the living God, has been the object of Satan’s ceaseless hostility. We have been well warned of these days by the apostles of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. And even before they departed from this world the mystery of iniquity was already at work (2 Thess. 2:7). But if the evil has been clearly pointed out, and it most surely has, a plain path for our feet has been as clearly pointed out, and directions given for the very worst days the saint of God can find himself in. And this second epistle has been cited as in a special way the handbook for these last days.
Here we are confronted with a state of things analogous to that which was found in Israel in the days of Malachi, when they said, “It is vain to serve God: and what profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked mournfully before the Lord of Hosts? And now we call the proud happy: yea, they that work wickedness are set up: yea, they that tempt God are even delivered.” This state of things brought to light them that feared the Lord; and they, we are told, “spoke often one to another: and the Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name. And they shall be mine, says the Lord of Hosts, in the day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spares his own son that serves him” (Mal. 3). Such may have to walk in comparative retirement, as those who were of very little account, and of no service to the mass of that proud and stiff-necked people, but they had the approval of the Lord, and that was all they really valued in that dark day of the nation’s despisal of God.
Would to God His people could be content today with His approbation! How much is our walk really in the sight of men, instead of being in the sight of God! How largely we are influenced by the opinion of the world! How we shrink from the pathway of Him who was despised and rejected of men! And if we flatter ourselves that we disregard the judgment which the world may pass upon us, perhaps our brethren come in between us and the light of His face, and lest we should be cold-shouldered by them we take up a path of uncertainty before God. Oh, to have the courage of our convictions! Oh, to exercise ourselves “to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men”! Pride of heart, confidence in self, the influence of the world, the fear of man; these are evils from which may God be pleased to deliver His beloved saints.
In the first chapter of this epistle the Apostle tells Timothy that all in Asia had turned away from him, and he could only speak of one man who had not been ashamed of his chain. In chapter 2 a darker picture is drawn. There were professors of Christianity who assailed the testimony of our Lord by their profane and vain babblings. The resurrection was said to have passed already, and by means such as these the faith of some was being overthrown. The profession is compared to a great house, in which are all kinds of vessels, some to honour and some to dishonour. From the latter Timothy is exhorted to separate himself, and to follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
They that fear the Lord and that think upon His name come once more to light. The very departure of the mass from the truth and power of Christianity brings the faithful into evidence, for they cannot go with those who wilfully turn aside from the Redeemer of their souls. They come together, and are found walking together in the truth, in spite of the general departure. And of them the blessed Lord takes account. He hears their sighing and their crying on account of the abominations that are practised by those who are called by His sacred name, and in the day in which He makes up His jewels they shall not be forgotten by Him.
In chapter 3 the character the profession would exhibit in these last days is pointed out. Bad as they were in apostolic days, a worse state of things was to appear. Every form of worldliness and of wickedness in Christendom was to develop under a form of godliness. A set of men would arise in the garb of Christians, who by sleight of hand and worldly wisdom would counterfeit the power of God, which works through His servants for the deliverance of His people from this evil world. They had their type in Jannes and Jambres, who withstood Moses when sent by God for the emancipation of His people from the bondage of the Egyptians. The signs Moses wrought were by the power of God, and had for their object the leading of the people out of Egypt, that they might be brought into the land of promise. The object of the enemy was to hold them fast under the oppression of Pharaoh.
And the object of their antitype today is to keep the people of God in this evil world. God has called us to heaven. We are partakers of the heavenly calling (Heb. 3:1). Our home is there (John 14:2-3), as is also our inheritance (Eph. 1:3; 1 Peter 1:4; Heb. 10:34). We are strangers here in this world, for we are a heavenly race (1 Cor. 15:48-49); and we are pilgrims on our way to that heavenly land (1 Peter 2:11). And just as the object of the enemy was with respect to Israel, either to prevent them getting out of the land of Egypt altogether or to so corrupt them that they would never enter into the land of promise, so his object today is to link us up body and soul with this Christless world. According to the leaders of Christendom, we are citizens of earth as long as we are upon earth. They will let us go to heaven when we die, but to maintain that our place, and our home, and our citizenship is there now at this present moment, and that as much as it ever shall be, they will not allow at all.
In chapter 4 we are told, “The time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.” And these days are upon us. Fables most assuredly are preferred by the mass of professing Christians. The most monstrous absurdity, the most blasphemous attack upon the Scriptures, or upon the person of the Son of God, is hailed by the mass of people as a needful, wholesome, and happy change from the conscience-searching and annoying gospel of the grace of God.
Jude speaks of these as having gone in the way of Cain, run greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core. And while encouraging the saints to earnestly contend for the faith, he does not lead them to look for any improvement in the state of things, but to build themselves up in their most holy faith, and to pray in the Holy Ghost, and in this way to keep themselves in the love of God, looking, not for things to improve, but for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life, while seeking to be used of God to deliver others from the impending judgment.
It is not difficult to see that we have reached the days spoken of both in Jude and in 2 Timothy. Therefore all who know God will naturally be on the look out for the path which assuredly He has marked out for the feet of His faithful people to tread. We know Him too well to imagine for a moment that He has thrown His saints upon their own resources, and that without the necessary light from Himself when the day is present in which has come to pass the evils foretold in His blessed Word. He has not condemned us to run with the multitude on the downward path to destruction, nor has He left us to walk by the light of the sparks of our own kindling. No, He loves us too well for that. And indeed in this very epistle the Scriptures are brought forcibly before us, as able to perfect the man of God, and furnish him thoroughly unto all good works. By their light the faithful soul will find a path as plainly marked out as if everything was in the most perfect order, though for those who are not whole-hearted for Christ the path, however clearly it may be indicated, lies in obscurity; for none are so blind as those who refuse to see.
We cannot hide from our eyes the terrible condition in which the beloved people of God are found today, nor, if we could hide this sorrowful sight from our eyes, would it be well for us to do so. True believers are so completely mixed up with a profession that is on the very verge of apostasy, that none but the Lord knows them that are His. They can be found among Tories, Radicals, Socialists, Labourists: all politicians of earth, and all fighting for their rights, and every one expecting God to be on the side which has by him been espoused. Heaven, and the rights of God—the less said about such things the better; they will get to heaven when they die, and the rights of God can be left to the indefinite future. Thank God this is not so of all His people, but I fear it is true of the majority.
And what about those who are mere professors? Are they not making a very quick march down into the darkness of Paganism? Christianity, if we are to believe the leaders of thought, has been long ago played out. The Bible, to the majority, is but a relic of the dark ages! a compound of fact, fable, and fiction! As a revelation of, or from, God, it is perfectly valueless; that is, if there be a personal God at all, a doctrine by many greatly questioned. Sin against God is a misnomer! Atonement by blood is a heathenish superstition! Eternal punishment is a fictitious bugbear! The future is walled up in gloom impenetrable, and nothing is known of that which may lie beyond death, except the fact that it harbours no evil for the human race. The virgin birth of the Son of God is either flatly denied or queried. The resurrection of Christ—the less said about this also the better! These are a few samples of the light which at present illuminates the schools of theology, and which forms the thoughts of those who unhappily go there to get the knowledge of the will of God. There are, as I have indicated, some bright exceptions to this general corruption, but this miasma, which issues from the abyss of evil, leaves scarcely a single soul in normal spiritual vigour.
But though I have said all these things, and though I feel that it is absolutely necessary that they should be said, it is not my intention merely to point out the evil, which is glaring enough to be seen by all who are not spiritually stone blind, but rather to ask you who love God, and who owe everything to His grace, and to the blood of His Son Jesus Christ, how you think He feels about all this apostasy about which I have been speaking. I feel certain you cannot suppose He has no judgment about it at all. You cannot suppose Him to be indifferent to the subtle way in which the enemy has laid successful siege to the citadel of His truth upon earth. It cannot be of no concern to Him that that which characterizes the profession of His holy name today is either utter indifference to His claims or barefaced blasphemy.
And in the midst of all this, what is it that occupies our attention? Is it the kingdoms of this world? or is it the kingdom of God? Is it the politics of earth, or the politics of heaven, that we go in for? Is it cinematographic representations, athletic sports, theatrical performances, or political meetings that swallow up our leisure hours, or is it the society of the people of God we seek, where His word is reverenced and read, and where prayer is wont to be made? Are we, like some who are described in this epistle, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God?
And with whom are our associations? Are they with those who know the Son of God as their personal Saviour, and who delight to speak of Him, and to hear Him spoken of? or are they with men of the world, who hate to hear His name mentioned? Remember, if we want to be miserable, we can go with the world, for we still have a nature within us that has no delight in the things of God, but the world cannot come with us, for it is by nature His implacable enemy.
Perhaps I may be told that we cannot go out of the world, that we have to go through it, do our business in it, be kind, courteous, and considerate to all, so as to give no offence to people generally or cause them to suppose that we consider ourselves better than they. True, but all that can be done without making ourselves associates of the mere worldling, and obliging him by talking about the things of the world, and not about the Christ of God, with whom our hearts are full. His conditions of companionship with him are, if we are to have him, we must have the world along with him, for his pleasures are all drawn from that source. Are we ready to accommodate him? or shall we not rather take the ground that, if he desires to keep company with us, he must not object to the presence of the Son of God also? Are we not very well aware that, if we made these conditions, the worldling would not have us?
But what about our associations in a religious way? Do we sit composedly and quietly, without the slightest protest, while a professed servant of Christ tears the Word of God to tatters, and preaches another gospel than that which was preached by the Apostles of our Lord and Saviour? Are we mixed up with all kinds of wickedness in our religious devotions? Have we not been told that if any one come to us, and bring not this doctrine, we are to have nothing to do with him? (2 John 10). Has the Word of God lost all power over our hearts? Why not withdraw from such at His command? What shall we gain by disobedience? You may say, Where am I to go? Had Abraham asked that question, and refused to move until he got an answer, he would have died in Ur of the Chaldees. You are told to depart from iniquity. All you have to do is to take one step at a time. When you have taken the first step He will give you light for the second. There is always a way of escape from evil for every soul of man who is determined, by the grace of God, to do what is right.
And for your guidance the Holy Scriptures are sufficient, though not many think so. The conduct and order of the house of God after it had fallen into decay, and not its order as set before us in the Word of God, seems to be that which has greatest acceptance in Christendom. Then they have the early fathers, and their writings, and these have greater weight with the hierarchy than has Scripture. If only some one can be found who has been in the company of an Apostle, or has even lived in Apostolic days, everything that man is reported as having said or done is sacred in the minds of these leaders of the people.
But here they seem to forget that Judas kept company with the Lord Himself; and not only that, but had part of the ministry committed to the other Apostles. Paul also warns the elders of Ephesus that of their own selves men would arise speaking perverted things, to draw away the disciples after them (Acts 20:30). Demas also forsook him, having loved this present world (2 Tim. 4:10). Hymenus, Alexander, Philetus, he mentions as corrupters of the saints, and all in Asia had turned away from him, of whom were Phygellus and Hermogenes. Nor of all those who took a prominent place as ministers of the truth had he one, when writing to the Philippians, that he could whole-heartedly commend, except Timothy; for, he says, “all seek their own, not the things which are Jesus Christ’s” (Phil. 2:21).
When I turn to the fathers, how do I know that I am not turning to some such men as these? This is a great deal too risky for me. When telling Timothy to continue in the things he had learned and been assured of, he says, “Knowing of whom thou hast learned them” (3:14). I do not know these fathers, nor have I any confidence in them. But I have no need of these men, for I have the Holy Scriptures, and they are “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto all good works.” Let us learn to keep more closely to the Word of God itself, for it cannot mislead us; and let us approach it with holy reverence, knowing whose Word it is; and let us earnestly seek to be instructed in its precious truths by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us for that very purpose. We are certain to be deceived more or less by the fathers, but we cannot be deceived by the Apostles of our Lord. They say, “He that knows God hears us; he that is not of God hears not us” (1 John 4:6).
We are come to days in which it is necessary that every true believer in Christ should be a man of God. Leaders cannot be depended upon; for the mind of man, which is always infidel and schismatic, has a large place in every religious community. Where the Scriptures are not read in dependence upon God, and their every sentence carefully pondered, eaten, and digested into the moral being, so that the Word becomes the living principle in the soul, no man will be able to thread his way, so as to please God, through the labyrinths of this sectarian and pleasure-loving profession of Christianity. It is a poverty-stricken land of darkness and error; a home of self-will, lust and pride; an arena of gladiatorial combats between mental athletes, who have no confidence in anything but the imaginations of their own unbelieving hearts; a hotbed of blasphemy; a dreary waste of fruitless speculation; and a rendezvous of hypocrites. If any one thinks this picture is drawn by a rash, careless, and unconscionable hand, let him read the short epistle of Jude, the servant of Jesus Christ, or the Second Epistle of Peter, servant and Apostle of Jesus Christ, and let him change his thoughts regarding the disposition of the mind of the writer of these notes.
But I may be told that I have overlooked the possibility of my misunderstanding the Scriptures; that I require some one to explain what they say and mean. No, I have not overlooked this, nor have I overlooked the purport of such a reminder. A Roman priest tells me I am not to have the Bible at all; that it is not good for me to read it; nor do I need to read it, for he will tell me all I require to know about divine things. I listen to him, and find myself in the hands of the devil. A Protestant priest tells me the Bible is a very good book to have, and that I should read it daily, and prayerfully; but that I cannot understand it apart from his help. He must explain it to me. That it would not be as dangerous for me to listen to the latter person as to the former is not hard to see, but whoever gets me to listen to him has me in his power. But the Spirit of God, who dwells in every true believer, is the only teacher we really require. As to this the Word of God could not speak more plainly: “But the anointing which ye have received of Him abides in you, and ye need not that any man teach you” (1 John 2:27). Thanks be unto God for such a faithful and infallible Guide! May we place ourselves unreservedly in His hands!
Of this only would I further remind the reader. The whole history of the professing Church, its fall, its corruption, its association with the world, its ruin, its apostasy, its rejection by Christ, and its final judgment, have all been foreseen by the Lord; and not only foreseen, but clearly marked out in the Scriptures, as also has provision been made for the faithful in its very darkest hour. Therefore let us not think that anything has been left to be filled up by the cleverness of our own natural minds. We may rest assured that every way we are to take in the midst of this ruin has been plainly marked out for our feet. Whatever we have not Scripture for doing we had better leave alone. Scripture points out the path we are to take, the company we are to keep, the dangers we have to avoid, and the work we have to do. And while we require “all Scripture” in order to be “thoroughly furnished to all good works,” there is no passage more important for our consideration than the Second Epistle of Paul to Timothy.
The first note struck in this epistle is that of divine purpose, the counsel of the beneficent Despot of the universe, the living God. The writer here does not style himself an apostle “separated to the gospel of God,” and “for the obedience of faith among all nations” (Rom. 1), nor as a minister of the church, for the calling of Jews and Gentiles into the unity of the body of Christ, but he is “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus.” He views both himself and his gospel in connection with the eternal counsel of love, which, in order to its fulfilment, necessitates the putting forth of the wisdom and power of a Saviour God.
Promise is presented in Scripture as outside the whole course of nature and of the responsibility of the creature. It is an engagement on the part of God to bring about a certain state of blessing for the creature, which had been already decreed in the determinate purpose of His love; a purpose which originated in His own mind, not suggested by the ruin of the creature, nor by any desire on the part of the creature, for the counsels were all formed, and the promise given, before the foundation of the world. And so perfectly will these counsels be all fulfilled, that in the sphere of blessing, in which the redeemed creature shall find himself throughout eternal ages, everything will be found to be just as it had been purposed before the world was.
This sphere of happiness, to which promise relates, cannot be invaded by the forces of evil, nor into it can anything that defiles find an entrance. It is forever immune from deceit, darkness, death, decay; and from all the sorrow, suffering, and anguish of heart, that results from coming under the power of evil. It is where God shall rest in His love, for all things there will be the invention of that love; they will also have been brought into being by the putting forth of His eternal might, and by that might they will be maintained in spotless purity.
The promise is life, but life in the sphere which is native to it; for this is the way in which Paul always views eternal life, it is the life which is in the risen Christ; the life in which the believer at this present moment lives to God, but viewed by Paul in connection with glory; and therefore the hope of the believer (Titus 1:2).
John views this same life as in the Son of God down here, and developed in this scene of contrariety, where all its beautiful and varied characteristics were brought to light, as by a prism the rays of the sun are resolved into their separate parts. With him it is this life on earth, where now we have it, and where its beautiful characteristics manifest the children of God as its possessors. It is in Christ in the Gospel of John, and in believers in the epistle (1 John 2:8).
This is the true and proper life of the believer, the life in which he lives to God. The life he had in Adam has come under the judgment of the cross, and the cross is, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to be brought to bear upon its every movement, in order that the life of Jesus may be manifested in his mortal body, until that body itself shall come under the power of that same life. And just as sure as our souls have come under the quickening power of the Son of God, so that we partake of that life in which He lives to God in that scene into which He has entered, so surely shall our bodies come under that same quickening influence.
And with the ruin of that which has been on earth committed to the responsibility of man, it is of the utmost importance to have our souls well grounded in the truth of that which is incorruptible. If the church, viewed in its responsibility as a witness for a rejected Christ, has proved such a failure, and if that failure has become a pressing burden upon our hearts, it is of the utmost importance for us to know something of the church which Christ builds, and against which the powers of death are hurled in vain. This may not be so evident a structure as is that structure upon which men are employed (1 Cor. 3:10-17), but it is no less real. It is founded upon the truth of the Son of the living God. This is the rock upon which the edifice is being builded, and the Son of the living God is Himself the Builder, and every stone in the structure is instinct with His life. Whatever may happen to that which man has a hand in building, and we see it is to come under the judgment of God, the idea of failure cannot rightly be connected with that which owes its existence to the Son of the living God.
Therefore in the presence of the ruin of the responsible body, the Apostle falls back upon that which is able to hurl back every power of evil that assails it. When this epistle was written the ecclesiastical mould in which the church was cast was fast breaking up. That a man was a professing Christian was no longer a guarantee that he was a child of God, nor was that which was of God any longer popular with the majority of real believers. Departure from the truth of the heavenly calling had already set in, and many had begun to gravitate to the world, ashamed of the reproach of the cross. The visible things were beginning to have more power over their hearts than the invisible. To be associated with a man who wore a chain like any ordinary felon was too much for the fleshly pride that had gained ascendency over their hearts. Besides all this, the devil had clandestinely introduced his servants among the saints, who spread abroad their pernicious doctrines, thus overthrowing the faith of some altogether. Hence it became now no longer possible for the heart that loved Christ, and was determined at all costs to be faithful to Him, to walk happily with the great body of Christians. In fine, that which was merely ecclesiastical could no longer be trusted.
Therefore the Apostle falls back upon that which is individual. It is worthy of note that in the epistles, even of Paul’s, which depict the evil of the last days, and which give directions to the servant of Christ regarding his walk in the midst of the abounding wickedness, we have no reference to the body of Christ, the house of God, or the supper of the Lord. Whatever be the reason for this we cannot conclude from it that these great truths are to be either forgotten or overlooked, for he says in this epistle, “The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” But where saints have to choose their company, there is always a tendency to set up a little church of their own, and to connect these privileges exclusively with themselves, not seeing that neither the house of God, the body of Christ, nor the Supper of the Lord, are bound by the limits of any little company.
No outward separations, except by apostates (1 John 2:19), and this was the renunciation of Christianity altogether, are recorded in Scripture. Such separations seem not to have taken place in the days of the Apostles, nor does it appear that Timothy understood that he was to make the first rent. Of inward divisions there were abundance, and we have the mind of the Spirit about them, but of separations there were none, nor for many a day after the Apostles had passed away.
Now we find ourselves in a profession which has been rent into a thousand miserable fragments, and those who would walk in the truth cannot go with all. But let us be careful that we do not add another sect to the many that are already in existence; and this I have already done, as far as one individual can do it, the moment I suppose that I can appropriate for any company of Christians that which belongs to all. When I have come to this notion I have lost the true idea of the body of Christ, of which every true believer is a member, and have set up in my own imagination a system other than that which occupies the mind and heart of Christ.
May we keep well in mind the great and glorious fact that none of us belong to any company that is less than the whole household of faith; and may we see, and thankfully confess, that what we inherit as the truth of God has not been gained by our own individual effort, but by the grace of our God through faithful men.
In this epistle God is not designated, as He is in 1 Timothy and Titus, a Saviour-God. In 1 Timothy He is spoken of twice under this designation, and in Titus three times. I suppose the reason is, that in both of these epistles the grace of God is viewed much more in its worldwide character than in either of the other two. In 1 Timothy God would have all men to be saved; and with this in view saints are exhorted to engage in supplications, prayers, and intercessions for all. In Titus, the grace of God that carries with it salvation for all men has appeared, and the kindness and love of God has shone out for men universally. But in this epistle, the manifestation of this grace that saves is connected with His purpose, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the ages of time; and the Apostle tells us he endured all things for the sake of the elect, that they might obtain this salvation. Now that the responsible witness for Christ upon earth had fallen into decay, and that without any hope of recovery, but rather resolved upon a path more in harmony with the spirit of the world, was it not the time for falling back upon the sure purpose of God with regard to those marked out by His grace before the world was, and for concentrating all his energies upon the salvation of such? But as this can only be done by means of a faithful presentation of the gospel, he exhorts Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. Gospel activity is not to be in the least abated, but instead of looking for multitudes being baptized, and thus being added to the church, the effectuation of the purpose of God is that which governs the mind of the preacher, and not the adding to a profession already in decay.
Therefore he does not style himself here as an apostle according to the commandment of a Saviour-God, as he does in the first epistle, but an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God. This office was not conferred upon him in answer to any desire on his part. His Apostleship was so intimately bound up with his conversion that the Lord could say to him, “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness, both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee” (Acts 26:16-17). He had not said, like Isaiah, “Here am I; send me,” but had been, by the sovereign mercy of God, rescued from destruction with that end in view. Therefore we hear him say in writing to the Corinthians, that woe was his if he preached not the gospel. It was the will of God that that Benjamite, in whom all Jewish hatred against Christ was exhibited, should become the most devoted slave of the rejected Nazarene, and also the most perfect expression of the love of Christ to the saints; and that he should, contrary to all the powerful influence of natural affection, like the kine of 1 Samuel 6, carry the Ark of God amongst a strange people. His strong natural sympathies and patriotic spirit would have held him at Jerusalem amongst the Jews, and he almost disputes the wisdom of the Lord for relegating his service to a foreign field (Acts 22:18-21), but ever submissive to the fiat of his beloved Master, he goes to the regions beyond, content to live or die for the name of the Lord Jesus.
In writing this epistle Paul speaks of himself as having finished his course. He is old in years, feeble in body, covered with the scars of a thousand battles fought in defence of the truth. Never once had the enemy seen his back in the battle. From the moment he drew the sword of the Spirit in the synagogues of Damascus until the day in which he laid down his life for that Saviour who was so dear to his heart, it never went back to its sheath. He was always in the forefront of the battle, and not his life, but that which he fought for, was what was sacred to his soul. To be slandered, to be bound, to be beaten, to be imprisoned, were things to which he was well accustomed. And he knew how to meet such persecutions with the kindness and love of a Saviour-God. Hunger, thirst, nakedness, weariness, loneliness, desertion, betrayal, enclosed his pilgrim pathway, and stung him to the centre of the soul. Cursed by his enemies, criticized by his friends, scoffed at by the learned, stoned by the madding multitude, he passed on upon his weary way, distributing infinite blessings and riches imperishable with no niggard hand. Now bent and broken in body, but strong as a giant in faith and hope and charity, he pours out of his sorrowful heart his desires, warnings, and encouragements into the ear of the only man who was like-minded with himself in things relating to the testimony of God. He had fought a good fight, he had finished his course, and now nothing remained but to seal that testimony, which he had been by the grace of God enabled to render, with his heart’s blood.
He sees now about to take place the evils of which he had long ago warned the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:29-30). His departure was at hand, and the grievous wolves were only waiting, as it were, to take a savage and merciless bound over the dead body of the faithful shepherd, into the midst of the feeble and defenceless flock. The perverse men, who were cowardly and craven in the presence of this man of God, would now see that their opportunity had come, and they would not be slow to take hold of it. But this is his consolation, that in his prayers the image of his son Timothy rises continually before the vision of his soul. And he takes it as an indication from God that at least one faithful man still remained to care for the interests of Christ. He says, “I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers.” The fact that this youthful but devoted servant of Christ came up before the mind of the Apostle when at prayer was an indication to him of the Lord’s approval of the spirit in which Timothy gave himself up to the interests of Christ.
It is a matter for great thankfulness to God when He lays any of His servants in a special way upon our hearts at our prayers. We are so apt to think that only those who manifest an inclination toward this evil world, and who seem to be in danger of falling asleep through its soporific influence, are they who really need our prayers, or more than others those whom the Lord would lay upon our hearts. This, however, is a very great mistake. There is far more prayer made to God in Scripture for those who are going on well, than for those who, like Demas, fall under the power of the world. In almost all the epistles written by him who writes this to Timothy he speaks of his prayers, which he offers up to God on their behalf, but in that to Ephesians, with whom he seems to have no fault to find, we have two wonderful accounts of the outpouring of his heart to God, and in one of these prayers he goes so far as to inform them of the attitude assumed by him in his earnest supplications on their behalf: “I bow my knees.”
It is an easy matter to pray for saints when they are going on well. One has the greatest confidence in God when going to Him on their behalf. Of the Philippians he says, “I thank my God upon every remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making request with joy.” With respect to the Galatians, who were in danger of giving up Christianity altogether, he does not say he prays for them, though he does say, “I have confidence in you through the Lord,” in going to Him about them.
As to Timothy, he had evidence of the unfeigned faith which dwelt in him; a faith that had dwelt in both his mother and grandmother; Jewish no doubt in its character, but none the less faith in God. Of this Paul evidently had had witness, and now it was a great comfort to his heart in view of the forlorn hope, and in the midst of the general departure from Christ, he could encourage Timothy to lead.
Timothy had been brought up in an atmosphere of faith, and this can never be without a powerful effect upon the future of the one so highly privileged. And when grace works in the heart of one who has been nursed in such a heavenly environment, a mighty impulse is given to the renewed mind by the discipline and instruction received therein. Even while still in a state of nature the moral framework of the individual becomes bent in a direction that needs not to be reversed when once the soul passes from death into life.
As to himself and his forefathers, not faith but a good conscience is that which he advances on their behalf. This had been, above everything else, cultivated. Before the council at Jerusalem he said, “Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” Not a purged conscience; for that he had not until he had it by faith in the blood of Jesus. That blood, which is of infinite value, is on the mercy-seat before God, and is the witness that the sins of our whole life are as completely gone as the life is in which these sins were borne. Before God the believer has a fixed and unalterable position in righteousness; for on the ground of that precious blood God ever holds the believer as righteous in His sight. And for this very reason there is no more offering for sin (Heb. 10:18). The blood of bulls and of goats, which was put upon the mercy-seat in the tabernacle, had no intrinsic value; therefore, of the sins for which that blood was offered, there was a remembrance every year, its only value lying in the testimony it maintained of the need of propitiation, and in the fact that it pointed forward to the sacrifice of Christ. But the blood of Christ, which is of infinite value, has spoken in the heavenly sanctuary, to which we are called by the gospel, and there our sins can never come, for the One who bore them, suffered for them and died for them is there without them, having in His death made a complete end of them, so that we have boldness to enter into the holiest where that blood is, the eternal witness that they are gone for ever.
And this is altogether irrespective of our walk upon earth, where there may be a great deal of carelessness and miserable failure. Our place in the heavenly sanctuary is maintained by our Saviour who is there, and who makes intercession for us in the power of that priceless offering, and in the strength of that love that came to light in that offering, so that our position there can never be disturbed. But in order to be in the enjoyment of the place we must be careful to exercise self-judgment, for if we do not we shall certainly grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom alone we can be in contact with the sanctuary; and if we grieve Him, though our position there cannot be disturbed, we shall miss the present enjoyment of all our heavenly privileges. And what unspeakable loss that would be! not to speak of the danger of making shipwreck of faith (1 Tim. 1:19).
A purged conscience is by the blood of Jesus, but a good conscience is wholly dependent upon our walk, and the possession of this latter quality is of all-importance where the devil has got to be met in the good fight of faith. The breastplate of righteousness is the second piece of the panoply of God mentioned in Ephesians 6. Without this we would be unable to count upon the support of God in the conflict, and in the presence of the enemy we would be as weak as water. With a condemning conscience our boldness in defence of the truth would desert us, for we would ever be fearing the exposure of our miserable inconsistencies.
But this, while it should always be the possession of the true believer in Christ, is not necessarily the exclusive possession of such. It is, as we see, claimed by Paul both for himself and his ancestors. He had ever been careful to regulate his conduct before God according to his light. The thing he believed he should do, that thing he did; and the thing he believed he should avoid doing, that thing he left alone. And on this very account he was the chief of sinners. He says, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. Which thing I also did” (Acts 6). No doubt there were many others who thought as he did, but on account of other considerations they stifled the voice of conscience, and left the doing of them to others whose consciences were more tender, or whose natural hostility to everything that was of God hurried them along in the wake of the persecuting Benjamite.
Conscience in itself is a bad guide. If enlightened by the testimony of God, all is well; but without that it may drive a man to declare war upon the God that made him, and to attempt to tread down and destroy all that is of God upon earth. At the same time it is not to be trifled with, for if a man believes he should pursue a certain line of conduct, and does it not, he shows his contempt of the authority of God. At the same time things done at the dictates of conscience may be most evil and offensive in His sight.
What is requisite is light. This can never be dispensed with. Paul, speaking of his murderous career of persecution, says, “I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tim. 1:13). His conscience required enlightenment, and when Jesus spoke to him from the glory it altered his whole career. The pride of his heart was broken; his human righteousness seen to be filthy rags; his pure conscience, which was the treasure of his soul, appeared to him as a veritable Jehu furiously driving him against the thick bosses of Jehovah’s buckler; and his proud pedigree was proved to be valueless in the sight of God. Destruction loomed black before his vision. He had unsheathed his sword, so he thought, against a deceiver of his beloved nation, but with his face in the dust he has to learn that the heart of the Son of God is the target at which he has been aiming. Poor man! Like a ravening wolf he had been trapped on the highway to Damascus. His confidence in the traditions of his fathers had been his undoing. His wisdom had been his folly, his light darkness, his zeal his condemnation. Misled by his conscience, hardened by his bigotry, carried away by his natural fervency, madly and blindly he pursued his persecuting career. His feet swift to shed blood, his hands full of it, his garments stained with it, he learnt in the heavenly light, and by the voice of Jesus, what a sinner he was. The hot blood that coursed through his veins was frozen at its fountain. His desperate determination to wipe out that holy Name from under heaven proclaims him the enemy of the God whom he was serving with a pure conscience.
Light was what he needed, and he got it abundantly. A light above the brightness of the sun. A light above all created light. Light from the glory of God where Jesus was. Light that withered up his natural vision, but opened the eyes of his spiritual being, and gave him to see himself as he was in the presence of God. But in that light mercy was revealed on his behalf. He says, “The grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 1:14). Well might he afterwards say, with a heart overflowing with gratitude to God, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.”
He will henceforth be as careful to maintain a good conscience as ever he was, but it will be a conscience enlightened with the knowledge of the Father and the Son; and instead of running in a way contrary to God and ruinous to himself, his feet will be found in the pathway of the will of God, and shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. As he had previously been characterized by unbelief, ignorance, and self-will, he will henceforth be distinguished by faith, knowledge, and subjection to the will of God. The chief of sinners becomes the chief of saints; the proudest Pharisee becomes in his own estimation the basest of mankind; the ravening wolf becomes the meekest lamb in the flock of Christ; the relentless persecutor of the saints bears upon his heart the burden of all the churches. Blessed man! Devoted servant of a Master whom he now loves with a love infinitely greater than the previous hatred that filled his murderous heart! Well may we exclaim, as we contemplate this willing slave of the Redeemer of his soul, “What has God wrought!”
But regarding Timothy’s ancestors he says nothing about conscience, as he says nothing about faith with respect to his own. Faith certainly had not been one of his characteristics; and had Timothy’s mother maintained a good conscience she had not married a Greek. We see therefore that one may possess and maintain a good conscience without having the faith that saves the soul. He may indeed be a most ardent servant of the devil. The Lord, when about to leave His disciples in this God-hating world, says, “The time comes, that whosoever kills you will think that he does God service” (John 16:2). People sometimes say that if one only acts conscientiously he cannot go far wrong; but here in Paul we have a man whose very conscientiousness was that which made him the chief of sinners. It is not conscience that saves but the light of the knowledge of God, as it has shone out in Christ.
But it is also possible to be a child of God and yet do violence to the conscience. This, however, is a very dangerous state to get into, as we have already seen. It is necessary to have both faith and conscience in exercise if we desire to walk through this world with God. Three times over we get them together in the First Epistle to Timothy. In the first chapter he says that the end of the charge, which he enjoined Timothy to keep, and to impress upon the saints, was “love out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned.” Then again in the same chapter he says, “Holding faith, and a good conscience,” and tells him that some having put away the good conscience have made shipwreck of the faith. Then in chapter 3 he was to see that the deacons were “holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” The one is practically useless without the other. It is a great mistake, which some have fallen into, to make everything of conscience and nothing of faith; and it is as great a mistake, on the other hand, to make everything of faith and nothing of conscience. May we know how to hold both together in the fear of God!
The confidence and joy of the Apostle regarding the reality of the faith of this beloved disciple Timothy causes him to be all the more anxious that the spiritual gift that was in him should not be inoperative, especially on account of its having been communicated to him by the laying on of Paul’s hands. It is of all importance that whatever gift may have been given to any one of us should be used to its fullest capacity in the service of the Lord who gave it, and to whom we are answerable for the use or misuse of the same. The wicked servant who did not know his Lord put his gift to no use whatever (Luke 19); the Corinthians were using their gifts for the glorification of the flesh (1 Cor. 14); but Paul used his wholly in the service of his Lord (2 Cor. 11). There is, even with the greatest of servants, a tendency to become occupied with the forces that rise up against us, instead of having the eye fixed upon the forces that are on our side, and hence we find on every hand depression, feebleness, and failure, where there should be confidence in the Lord, courage of heart, and determination of mind, to meet the powers of evil that rise up against us, and to have the utmost certainty of ultimate and glorious victory. The gift of God, which is the expression of the power of life in Christ risen, is more than a match for all that opposes it (2 Cor. 10:3-5), but if we are to be able to make right use of it we must not trust even in the gift but in our victorious Head, from whom it has been received, and in the Holy Spirit, who is the power of that gift in us.
“God,” he tells Timothy, “has not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” For whatever we have to do, or whatever we may have to bear in this world, we can always count on abundance of power from on high; at least it is our privilege to be able to do this. To be strengthened with all might, according to the power of His glory, is the mind of God for His people (Col. 1:11); and however great the works were which were done by Christ when on earth, “greater works,” He says, “than these shall ye do; because I go unto My Father” (John 14). The power is His, but this power is exercised on earth by means of His servants.
But it is not mere power, which might be used for the destruction of His beloved saints, it is the spirit also of love, love that sacrifices itself for the good of its objects, and counts that sacrifice a privilege unspeakable. It is a spirit that occupies itself in ministering Christ to the souls of men, in nourishing and cherishing the members of Christ, and delights in spending and being spent for them. It does not hesitate to reprove, rebuke, and exhort; but it prefers to encourage, comfort, console, and intercede on their behalf.
And in order to serve the saints in the interest of Christ it was also necessary to have a sound mind, or wise discretion. Solomon, in the tenderness and artlessness of his youthful heart, and feeling his natural inability to rule so great a people as Israel, says to God, “Give me now wisdom and knowledge, that I may go out and come in before this people” (2 Chr. 1:10). And if we really know how utterly evil, proud, and imperious the flesh is, we shall be careful to seek the face of God, that we may have in exercise all these qualities that were al all times so necessary to have in manifestation in a day of general declension and departure from Christ.
The gospel was in affliction in the world: it had always been so, but it was now despised and persecuted more than ever. Even those who professed to believe it were not all now ready to take part in its tribulations. Even the morale of Timothy was not at the high level it once had been; and to stimulate the flagging faith of this hitherto devoted disciple of Christ, so that the gift that had been bestowed upon him might be once more used in the service of the Lord, the Apostle writes this, his apparently last epistle.
Be not thou therefore, he says, ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me His prisoner. There was nothing to be ashamed of. True, it was unpopular in the world. But how could it be otherwise? It declared heaven’s acceptance of the One whom the world had rejected. It spoke of His exaltation to the right hand of God, and of His coming again in judgment. It woke up the conscience of the sinner: it unmasked the hypocrite; it chipped off the thin veneer of man’s boasted civilization, and showed the rottenness within: but it spoke of a day of grace before the judgment would begin; it revealed a Saviour-God in the person of Jesus, whom man had rejected; it declared forgiveness to guilty sinners; it was the power of God unto salvation to all them that believed; in it the righteousness of God was manifested for those who had no righteousness of their own.
And yet it was hated, and hated just because it testified of these things. It laid at the door of the world the murder of the Son of God, but opened up a way of salvation, which carried with it eternal glory, for every soul under heaven, and all by faith in Christ and His precious blood. Its unpopularity lay in this, that it brought the conscience of every man into the presence of God, gave him to see that the Christ the world had rejected was the sinner’s only hope. It brought down the pride of the human heart in the dust, made nothing of his fancied righteousness, and shut him up to the mercy and grace of God. Hence the unpopularity of the heavenly message.
But to this gospel Timothy owed everything he possessed that was worth possessing in the universe. Therefore he was not to be ashamed of it, nor of him who was in prison for its sake. He was to suffer evil along with it, for until the Son of God takes the throne that is rightly His, and puts His feet upon the necks of His enemies, so long will the gospel be in affliction. And until that day all who believe it, and live according to its principles, must suffer persecution. Its subject is Christ, who was hated when here upon earth, is hated still, and shall always be by this evil world, and so also shall all His true followers be.
But this is not to deter them from following the Son of God. They can count upon the power of God for every danger and difficulty they may have to encounter. They are not to attempt any forward movement in their own fancied might. It must be, as the Apostle says, “according to the power of God.” Testimony for Christ is not to be undertaken in the power of the creature. But this power has been given to us in the anointing that we have received, and which is in us, and is greater than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).
The enemy must be met in the power of God, and in the consciousness that He has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, which so little depended upon anything that we had done or could do that it could be said to be given us in Christ Jesus before the ages of time. Not even our lost condition as sinners is given as an incentive to this activity of divine love, though no doubt it furnished an occasion for the putting forth of the might of God for the accomplishment of this purpose; but it was a gift given to us in Christ Jesus before the world was, and given by Him who works all things after the counsel of His own will.
This is a rock for our feet amid the shifting and unstable sands of a fallen and faithless creation. Into the composition of the immovable foundation no element of the creature, fallen or unfallen, enters. We can look abroad upon the wood, hay, and stubble, which unskilful workmen have built into that which has ostensibly the place of the house of God, and we are not surprised at the havoc wrought by the fiery trial through which it is made to pass; we can with equal equanimity behold the thousands of mere worldlings, who have adopted the profession of Christianity without any real work of the Spirit of God in their souls; we can peacefully view the baptized myriads upon whom the word of truth, which has been ministered to them from their very infancy, has had no saving effect, and our faith is not shattered to pieces by the apparent inability of the gospel to effect the salvation of those who are continually hearkening to its sweet and heavenly melody: no, we know well that all that the Father has given to the Son shall come to Him (John 6:37); and though we may mourn and lament the indifference, and even the innate enmity of the human heart to the truth of God, we are confident that, in connection with eternal purpose, nothing can fail; for the power of God is able to give effect to the counsels of His love. It is also exceedingly reassuring and restful to our souls to know that this purpose and grace, having been given to us in the sovereignty of God, nothing can ever deprive us of it.
And this purpose and grace has been manifested by the appearing of Jesus Christ. That effect might be given to this purpose of God, the One in whom it was originally given to us has been here in manifestation, in order that death, which lay upon us as the just judgment of God, might be annulled, redemption accomplished, God glorified, and life and incorruptibility brought to light by the glad tidings: but this life and incorruptibility are in a new and heavenly sphere, which had never previously been the abode of man. Now that death has been abolished, and redemption completed, Christ has gone on high, and has taken up His abode in Manhood before the face of God, into which death and corruption have no entrance; and in order that we might have the assurance that this place is ours in Him, He has sent down the Holy Spirit to dwell in us, and to give us the consciousness that we belong to that place; so that we rejoice to sing:
“He’s gone within the veil:
For us that place has won.
In Him we stand a heavenly land,
Where He Himself is gone.”
Of these glad tidings Paul was a herald, an apostle, and teacher of the nations. In this he was the most highly honoured man upon earth: for what greater honour could be conferred upon a poor creature, whose stubborn will had been subdued by the grace of the heavenly Christ, than to be allowed to be the exponent of that grace in the midst of a selfish world, and to enlighten the dark places of the earth with the knowledge of the salvation and love of a Saviour-God? And though Paul would have greatly preferred to carry the message to those of his own nation, he was not insensible to the grandeur of the mission with which he had been entrusted.
And because of this the persecutions of his fellow-countrymen dogged his footsteps. They would not have the gospel themselves, neither would they allow it to be preached to the Gentiles, if they could prevent it. It aroused their jealousy to see it pass their door and rest in the house of the heathen, though they knew well they could have had it also had they desired it, for indeed it was to the Jew first, if also to the Gentile.
But of the reproaches, stoning, stripes, and imprisonments he was not ashamed; he rather gloried in these afflictions, for he knew whom he had believed, and he had every confidence that he was able to keep that which He had committed to him against the day of His appearing. His Saviour was well known to him. In His death the deep fountains of eternal love for the poor, benighted, self-willed Saul of Tarsus had been discovered, and in the light of that love the ransomed soul of this devoted servant had walked since the day in which he was arrested by it on his persecuting career almost at the gate of Damascus.
From that moment the world for him lost its brightness. In the light above the brightness of the sun, which fell upon him from the glory where Jesus was, the gloom of Judaism was like a wintry moonless night, and the Gentile world darker still. There was henceforth to be no home for him here below. As far as the world was concerned his future pathway was to be a thorny one. A long vista of persecutions and afflictions loomed darkly before his vision. From his Lord he was to hear how much he must suffer for that name he had so despised and hated. Every joy that was henceforth to lighten his heart must come from whence the light came, in which he had learned the exceeding sinfulness of his self-righteous career. But this was all well, for the happiness that the knowledge of Jesus had deprived him of would be more than counterbalanced by the happiness in store for him with his Saviour on high. He could say, “I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18), and, “The life I live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved and gave Himself for me” (Gal. 2:20).
Paul exhorts Timothy to hold fast the form of sound words “which,” he says, “thou hast heard of me.” Nothing that this disciple had heard from the Apostle was to be let slip. But it could only be held in faith and love, both of which were in Christ Jesus. They were the words of God, and they carried all His authority with them to the conscience. They were not to be held in the fierceness of fanaticism, or in the insane bigotry of a blind and bewildering superstition, but in that faith which links the soul in a practical way with the living God, and in the love that seeks the good and the enlightenment of the creature, not binds him hand and foot under the authority of darkness. And this “faith and love” is in Christ Jesus. There are all the rich supplies of heavenly grace, which flow freely forth in the power of the Spirit into the souls of those who in the consciousness of their own nothingness draw from that fullness.
The truth may be, and alas is often, imposed upon souls in such an arbitrary, lordly, and tyrannical way, by those who undertake to minister it in God’s Assembly, as brings the hearer under the despotism of the teacher, instead of setting him in the exercise of his faith in the presence of God; and the consequence is, that instead of ministering to the growth and development of the divine nature, which is love, fear becomes the dominating principle in the soul of the disciple, and darkness and superstition are engendered and promoted, instead of light and the true knowledge of God. This is the devil. But if those who seek to minister the faithful word to the souls of men hold it in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus, God is brought before the soul of the hearer, he is led into the Divine presence, the new nature is nourished and promoted, and holy liberty, instead of cruel bondage, results. God grant that His precious truth may be still more clearly ministered to the souls of men, but that it may be ministered in its own nature, sweetness, tenderness, power, and spiritual pathos!
That precious deposit of truth which was committed to Timothy he is exhorted to keep; but not in his own power, which he would find when the test came to be worse than useless. The Spirit of God is alone the power by which the truth is by us apprehended, and it is only in that same power we can cleave to it, especially in a day like the present when it has become so unpopular even where it is supposed to be held with reverence. All creature power is valueless in the things of God, and the sooner this is learned by all of us the better it shall be for us. All that were in Asia had turned away from Paul, and unless Timothy leaned upon a power greater than his own he would be carried away in that cowardly panic-stricken current of worldly-minded men.
The Apostle is only able to mention one man whose affection for Christ enabled him to rise above the pusillanimity of the mass who shrank from the reproach of the cross, and who manifested that affection in his earnest search after the poor persecuted and forsaken servant of the Lord, and who rested not until he found him. This man has honourable mention; and in the day of Christ’s glory it shall not be forgotten by Him. Nothing done for the Lord out of love to His name shall ever be forgotten by Him. He is an example for us to follow. May we keep him in mind!
In Timothy we get the typical servant of Christ who is to continue throughout the whole of this present dispensation. Feeble in body, and without that force of character marking, even in his unconverted days, the man who writes this epistle, he could draw nothing from the resources of his nature to help him in the maintenance of the testimony of his Lord. Not that this testimony is, for its subsistence in the world, to be debtor to the flesh; but where there is little nervous vitality, bodily weakness, and natural timidity, one is likely to exaggerate the difficulties that beset the lonely path of the servant of Christ in a day in which the gospel, instead of breaking down all opposition, and compelling multitudes to submit to the authority of Him who is the subject of it, its flowing tide of popularity and successions of victories are slowly beginning to ebb, and to lose, at least in outward appearance, the power and might that had once so startled the nations that the preachers were branded as men that had turned the world upside down. In such a day one naturally pessimistic requires special grace to rise above that which is so calculated to dishearten and depress.
The mind is greatly affected by the body, and the latter may be in such a state of nervous debility that one may become, as people say, afraid of one’s own shadow; and, on the other hand, one may appear to be without nerves at all. But in the things of God neither of these conditions is to be of any account. In natural things they may count, but not in the things of God. The courage of a Simon Peter will only bring a man into the danger, but will desert him in the hour in which he has to make a stand for Christ. This kind of courage has to be guarded against, just as carefully as the natural timidity which would drive a man from the roughness of the way and the opposition of the world, as John Mark was driven from companionship with Barnabas and Paul at Pamphylia.
The work of God is not to be carried on in the might of the creature. In his unconverted days the Apostle seems to have possessed a force of character far beyond that possessed by any of his contemporaries. A man of strong convictions, mind, and will, and all possibly supplemented by a healthy body, he was not compelled to seek a fountain of energy outside himself. But all these went, with the man that possessed them, in the judgment of the cross, and in Christ he found himself weaker than water spilt upon the ground. But in this felt weakness, which was new to him, he cries to the Lord, and finds in Him a bountiful supply of grace which meets all his need, for it was infinitely greater than all the resources that he had hitherto found in himself. He says, “I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). He has learned that all that is done for God upon earth must be done in His power. He says Christ “was crucified through weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God toward you” (2 Cor. 13:4). Christianity and everything pertaining to it is established and subsists in the power of God, and there the mere natural energy of the creature has no place.
To this fountain the Apostle directs his beloved child in the faith. He says, “Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus.” This grace is greater than any power that can rise up against it. In all its might it is set before us in Christ Himself, in whom it is available for us. Writing to the Corinthians that Apostle reminds them of this, in those words that are engraven in the heart of all who love Him: “Ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that ye through His poverty might be rich ” (2 Cor. 8:9). This is where its power is seen; and as we contemplate it in all its infinitude, almightiness, wealth of glory, sweetness, and unselfishness, we become convinced that all the forces that could be arrayed against us would be as nothing, were our hearts well established in its divine and heavenly fullness. And this Timothy could not do without, but having it he needed nothing more to fit him for the line of service entrusted to him by his Saviour and Lord.
He was to see that the truth he had heard from Paul, to whom it had been revealed by the Spirit of God, and in whose power it had been spoken, was to be communicated to others, faithful men, who would be in their turn used to instruct others also. Neither Timothy nor such men could say that they had these communications first-hand: Paul could, for he had them by the revelation and inspiration of God, and that direct, without any intermediary (Gal. 1:12). But we who have heard them are put in trust with them by the Lord, and are answerable to Him for the use we make of them. We are to keep them in the purity in which we have received them; and if any of us are used of God in ministering them to others, we must do it in dependence upon Himself and in the might of His Holy Spirit, in order that as little as possible of the human element may be mixed up with the sacred things that have emanated from the mind of God. It is needless to say that a certain amount of weakness, imperfection, and failure is sure to be mixed up with our reception of such stupendous revelations, as well as with our setting of them forth, but there is the perfect Word in the holy Scriptures to fall back upon, not only that the one who ministers may have his thoughts more perfectly adjusted according to the truth, but to which the attention of the hearer also may be directed; and to which, thank God, now that Bibles are so plentiful, he can have easy access; for, after all, it is only the Scriptures that have authority over conscience, mind, and heart. In the hands of men we are never safe, for the human mind in itself is always opposed to the truth of God. The apostles themselves were, in this respect, no more to be depended upon than other men, but they were kept by the power of the Spirit of God under the most perfect control, their own natural minds by that same Spirit rendered quiescent, so that they received the thoughts of God in all their purity, and conveyed them to others by words as truly given to them by the Spirit as were the thoughts themselves. Because of this we can with unbounded confidence turn to the writings of these men, assured that we have the communications of God therein as unadulterated and as pure as if they were audibly spoken out of heaven by the voice of the living God. And in these sacred Writings we have sufficient light to guide us through the darkest hour of this Christian dispensation, and through the most intricate and bewildering circumstances that the power of the devil and the corruption and apostasy of mere professors can throw across our pilgrim pathway. Let us, then, with thankful hearts hold tenaciously to the Holy Scriptures, as a child to the hand of its parent amid the devouring darkness, or as the blind to a faithful and unerring guide.
Timothy was to take a lesson from the soldier, the athlete, and the husbandman. As a soldier he was to be at the instant command of his captain, and to endure all the hardships that were incident to such an arduous calling. As an athlete he was to give particular attention to the rules of the game, not seeking by unlawful means to obtain the crown, for this would be to lose it. As a husbandman he must exercise patience, knowing that the labour must precede the gathering in of the fruit. But the Lord would give him understanding in all things. He had only to keep well in mind what the Apostle was bringing before him. This was all that was necessary on his part; the understanding would come from the Lord. This is very encouraging. We have no reason to lament our lack of cleverness; for cleverness is valueless in the things of God. He can teach the most stupid, and He delights to do it; and if we only place ourselves in His hands, and meditate on His Word, He will give us a surprising measure of true insight into His thoughts.
Timothy was also to keep in mind that everything is now given to men on the platform of resurrection. Even the “sure mercies of David” were to be given to the people on that ground (Acts 13:34). This takes everything completely out of the hand of the creature; and though the gospel that makes this known is in rejection here below, and has to suffer affliction, nevertheless the purpose of God is sure to triumph in the end, for nothing can withstand His might. Both life and incorruptibility have been brought to light by the gospel, but they are revealed as in another sphere than that which belongs to flesh and blood, in which we see nothing that is not subject to death and corruption. Hence in the presence of the failure of all that which professes the name of Christ, it is good to have the eye directed to a power that death itself has not been able to withstand.
And if for the Word of God—the revelation of His grace, His love, His counsels, His activities in Christ for the effectuation of those counsels—the Apostle suffered trouble, as an evildoer, even unto bonds, what mattered it if that Word was unfettered? It was His power to salvation to all them that believe; the means by which He was gathering His elect out from a world guilty of the murder of His Son; and for whose sakes, that they might obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory, he endured all things. His Lord had already lost His life upon earth for the truth of God, and faithfully following in those divine footsteps, the servant counted not his life dear to him, but only that Word with which he had been entrusted; being well aware that if we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him; and if we suffer, we shall reign with Him; knowing that the opposite was also true, that if we deny Him, He also will deny us; and if we believe not, He abides faithful: He cannot deny Himself. What confidence would we have in Him if He could?
Timothy was also to keep in mind that all his service was to be devoted to the profit of those who heard him. There was to be nothing in his ministry for the mere natural mind of the creature. The great end to which his energy was to be directed was to get into the souls of those who listened to his voice the great thoughts of God. The saints were to be guarded against indulging in theories that had their origin in the fleshly mind. What was calculated to profit souls in their relations with God was the only thing of importance.
Therefore this man of God was to see that the various lines of truth, in the revelation given to us of God, were presented to the saints in their own special and individual character, and also in their relation to that revelation looked at as a whole. He would thus prove himself to be a workman, approved unto God, and needing not to be ashamed, for the effect of such labour would stand for eternity.
Profane and vain babblings he was to shun altogether, for ungodliness would result from such teaching; and the word of such as indulge in those vagaries of the fallen human mind would eat as a canker.
But in spite of all such confusing and corrupting influences that were ardently at work for the destruction of souls, and that within the sacred enclosure of the house of God, it was a comfort to the heart of the Apostle, and he reminds Timothy of it, that the firm foundation of God stands. This is Christ: and where this is laid in the soul it is immutable and unshakable; and though in the faithless profession there may be a great claim of acquaintance with Christ, and a clamour for signs and signals of recognition, we are comforted and encouraged by the certainty that the Lord knows them that are His; though the only way in which they can be manifested to men is by their departure from unrighteousness; for the name of the Lord is not to be mentioned where evil is tolerated. In this way those who are His are known by us who cannot read the heart.
We may expect to find in the house of God a state of things analogous to the things which are found in a great worldly house; vessels, not only of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth, and between these vessels we have to distinguish, for some are to honour and others to dishonour in the house of God these vessels are persons with whom we have to do, and we must be on this account constantly cast upon God, in order that we may be able to distinguish between the precious and the vile, refuse companionship with the latter, of whom Hymenæus and Phyletus were examples, and leave ourselves in the hand of the Master as serviceable for His use, and prepared for every good work.
To go with blasphemers of Christ and corrupters of His gospel might ensure to us an easier path through this Christless world, and cause those who prefer the praise of men to the praise of God to speak of us as charitable and broad-minded, but what a dishonour to the Christ who shed His blood for our redemption and what grief to the Spirit of God, by whom we know and enjoy all that is ours on the ground of that precious blood, and what incalculable loss and injury to our own souls, not to speak of the poltroonery and perfidy of such double-facedness! Let us in faithfulness to our Lord and Master give the corrupters of God’s truth a very wide berth.
But if we are to abandon the society of evildoers, we have in this Scripture our companions marked out for us, and that in the most distinct and evident manner. We are to follow righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. We are not to go with the wicked; we are not to reject the righteous. Let us be careful to keep this in mind. We sometimes think that we have a right to reject those who differ with us on certain points of doctrine, when not unoften there is need for readjustment on both sides of the question under dispute. But we are all naturally sectarian, masterful, opinionated, and lopsided; and not being absolutely certain that we have the mind of God about the matter, we cannot bear to be contradicted. But if we were a little more humble-minded, and if we had the truth more in the love of God and in the power of the Spirit, we should be better fitted to set right those who oppose, even when we know that it is the truth they are opposing; for we should connect that truth with God and not with ourselves; and in His love, which would give us the needed meekness, we would seek, not to crush our opponent, but to recover him out of the snare of the devil; knowing that he has been allowed to be taken captive by the enemy of our souls, in order that the will of God may be effected in him. Of this solemn but tender mercy of God Job is a marvellous example. What poor senseless, selfish, and conceited servants we are! No other master than the Lord Himself would have anything to do with us. Blessed for ever be His matchless grace!
The Apostle does not lead Timothy to look for any improvement of things in Christendom. The first chapter speaks of the decline of heavenly-mindedness and spiritual vigour, and the second chapter of the corruption of the truth by profane vain babblings, and the need for separation from men who traffic in such things. And these evils were existent in the day in which the Apostle wrote this epistle.
But worse was to come. The baleful influence of these errors were to be felt throughout the whole professing body, and not only here and there was the gangrene to manifest its deadly presence, but the whole mass was to feel the horrible effects of the invasion of those accursed pestilences, that had their origin in the abyss of evil.
In the last days—days that were yet to come when the Apostle was writing—difficult times were to manifest themselves, for men would become selfish, covetous, self-willed, unnatural, hateful, traitorous, savage, pleasure-loving, with a thin veneer of piety over all, but without the smallest particle of its true power.
And all this in that which still professes the name of Christ. It is not a description of that which has always been found outside Christianity, but a description of the corruption of that which was originally established in such heavenly power and blessing at the beginning of the present dispensation of grace. The world, as such, was always evil, but in the company described in the beginning of the Acts of the Apostles there was nothing of that which we get here. Then men loved God; and not themselves, but one another. Then men were not covetous, but each man was found giving all he possessed for the good of his neighbour. There one might have breathed the atmosphere of heaven, here spreads its noxious odours the effluvia of hell.
From these Timothy was to turn away. There was no mending of them. Instruction would all be lost upon them. They were to be left to God, who would take them in hand in His own time and way. The dupes of those who arise out of this horrible miasma of evil are silly, giddy worldlings, who never come to the knowledge of the truth, though always learning and apparently anxious to be in possession of it. But having given their ears to those who oppose the truth, as these leaders do, it is impossible for them to come to the knowledge of it. The fact is, they have no heart for that which is of God, whatever profession they may make of love to Him, and therefore the lie of Satan has more acceptance with them than the truth of God.
But those leaders who spring up out of the pleasure-loving mass described in the beginning of the chapter withstand the truth. They set themselves in opposition to it, in the same way in which the magicians withstood Moses; that is, by counterfeiting the power of God. When Christ ascended on high He gave gifts for the effectuation of all that relates to the purpose of God regarding this present dispensation: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. These were to remain for the perfecting of the saints, with a view to the work of the ministry, with a view to the edifying of the body of Christ, and they do remain until the present time; for Christianity truly subsists in the power of God. The creature can contribute nothing to it. These gifts are the expression of the power of God in Christ risen and in the Holy Spirit on earth, and by them all the work of God is continued until this present day, and shall be continued while the church is upon earth.
But men who have no part in this power have imposed upon Christendom a class of men who answer to the magicians of Egypt who stood up against the emancipation of the people of God from the slavery of Pharaoh. They profess by human ordination and a smattering of learning to do the same things as the true servants of the living God do by His almighty power. But their object in this is to keep the saints of God, who are a heavenly people, still in connection with the system of the world. The truth is that which leads the hearts of the saints of God heavenward, and out of the world of which the devil is the prince and god. Speaking to the Father, the Lord says, “Sanctify them through Thy truth, Thy word is truth.” This it is which sanctifies the true people of God, leading their hearts to where Christ sits at the right hand of God, and therefore is the truth opposed by those who desire to hold fast to things here, and who know little or nothing of the true heavenly character and calling of Christians.
But what is needful is a perfect acquaintance with Paul’s doctrine. This is of the utmost importance in a day like the present. The true heavenly calling of the people of God, and their session even now in the heavenly places in Christ were truths that, if we are to be here in a way pleasing to the Lord, we cannot do without. To maintain this position in a practical way while here upon earth we have to meet the infernal forces which are all marshalled against us (Eph. 6), and if we are not continually watchful we shall be driven from it. Not that the position could ever be really lost to us, for it is held by Christ, but we might lose it as a governing truth and an enjoyed portion in our practical lives. Let us see to it that we put on the whole panoply of God, and in dependence upon Him draw the sword of the Spirit in defence of the land that is really ours, and let not the fruitful land of Bashan divert us from our true inheritance beyond the power of death.
But there is also the manner of life of the Apostle to be considered. His manner of life was consistent with his teaching, as it always should be with all the ministers of the truth. He was not like the Scribes who sat in the seat of Moses, teaching one thing and doing another. With Paul the truth he taught was set forth in his ways. It was delineated in his manner of life. He could say to the Philippians, “Brethren, be followers together of me.” He was a true follower of Christ, and was therefore that which every other saint should be.
But he also mentions his purpose. His one object, as far as his walk upon earth was concerned, was to live Christ; that Christ should be glorified in his body, whether by life or by death. Christ was his one object in all his activities down here; and also He was the goal before him in glory. To reach Him there, and to be conformed to His image, was the one pursuit of his soul. He says, “That I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of (or out from among) the dead. … I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” With him Saul of Tarsus was utterly displaced by the Christ of God. What an object lesson for us!
Next he speaks of his faith that nothing could shake. His confidence in God under every circumstance stood the test imposed upon it. His long-suffering, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings, all of which were well known to this devoted disciple of Christ, as also was the never-failing intervention of the Lord for the deliverance of His beloved and faithful servant. But throughout this whole dispensation no other pathway than this can be found for the faithful, for things will become worse and worse in the profession of Christianity, and therefore all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
But the faithful disciple is to abide in the things he has learned, knowing of whom he has learned them. He is not to trust to men he does not know. Others may put their trust in what they are pleased to call the fathers of the church, but the true disciple of the Lord has no confidence in any of them. He knows the apostles, and those whom the Spirit of God has used to make known His mind, but the fathers he knows not, nor can he trust his soul to the doctrines put forth by any of them. Some of them may have been in their measure devoted to the interests of Christ; he is not called upon to pass any judgment regarding them, but he trusts not to their teaching, except so far as it is in accord with the Word of God; but if it is in accordance with the Word of God, then it is not the men he is trusting, but the writers of the Scriptures, in which everything is found that is necessary for us to know.
Timothy from a child had been acquainted with the Scriptures, which are able to make wise unto salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. It is the Old Testament Scriptures that the Apostle speaks of, for Timothy could have had no others; but these testified of Christ, and when he was brought, through the instrumentality of the Apostle, to faith in Christ, what he had learnt became of infinite value to his soul.
It is well to have the youthful mind well stored with the precious truth of Scripture, for even if for many years there may be no appearance of the quickening work of God, still when that does take place, all that has been learnt in childhood becomes a mine of wealth which can be used by the Spirit of God for enlightening and establishing the heart in the knowledge of the divine mind. The seed sown may take long to germinate, but the one who thus sows the precious seed in the youthful soul will not find in the day of the Lord that his labour has been in vain.
But now the Apostle can also speak of the New Testament Scriptures, and he says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness; that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” The Scriptures cannot be done without, and the man of God requires nothing else to give him the knowledge of the will of God. There is no good work that has not its origin in the Holy Scriptures. Everything needful for our path through the world is found there.
But we require to have that Word as the living principle in our own souls. The Apostle prayed for the Colossians that they might be filled with the knowledge of His will, in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so as to walk worthy of the Lord unto all well pleasing. It is not only our privilege to see the will of God in Scripture, but to have it engraven upon our hearts, so that we are filled with the knowledge of it. It becomes then part of ourselves. It is not merely an external rule to guide us in our earthly journey in harmony with the mind of the Master whom we desire to serve, but it has formed us by its own living power, which is that of the Holy Spirit of God, so that it is our very nature. It is not a mere commandment, though it never ceases to be the authoritative voice of God in His Word to our souls, but it has so shaped us, that we fall naturally into the pathway of His will, as a path well known to our souls, and in which is all our delight.
It cannot deceive us, so we may put our whole trust in its communications. We cannot transgress its statements with impunity. We are to carry out its principles, precepts, and commandments, unhampered by the fear of man. May we not forget, when we read it, or hear it read, or when it comes up in our minds, that it is to be esteemed more than our necessary food; for man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.
A still darker picture, if darker could be, is drawn by the pen of the Apostle in this chapter. Decay had already set in upon that which bore the name of Christ, and this would increase until the final apostasy would be reached. The leprous spot was already manifesting itself, and the Apostle, taught of the Spirit of God, knew that there would be no healing or cleansing of the profession; the canker would spread until the whole mass would become a reeking ulcer compelling the righteous judgment of God, who when about to judge the world would have to begin at that which was comprehended within the limits of His house.
The Apostle does not say that men would still have a form of godliness, which they are said to have along with the corruption described in chapter 3. Chapter 4 is an advance upon the state of things described in the previous chapters. Here they will not endure sound doctrine. They prefer the speculations of the fallen human mind to the truth of God.
These fables that the Apostle speaks of are the things that have turned them away from the truth. It is just what is at work today. Take what is called “light reading.” These books fill the libraries of Christendom. Like a plague of locusts they darken the light of heaven, and people give themselves over to such reading, as the inveterate tippler does to strong drink. And when this appetite is created—and it is created by tampering with such fictitious productions of corrupt and blighted imaginations—there is no satisfying it, but every desire for better things becomes strangled in the human soul; profitable reading is almost altogether neglected, and the Word of God might just as well be cast upon the ash heap it is little, or never, looked at. Sound doctrine is not to the taste of the enfeebled minds of such inebriates; desire for the truth has perished in the soul, if ever it was there, and the dreamer drifts like a helpless derelict upon a stupefactive ocean of fabulosity.
It is remarkable that there is nothing in this epistle regarding church order. All ecclesiastical teaching is in abeyance. In chapter 1 the afflictions of the gospel are avoided by the mass, who are ashamed of Paul’s chain; in chapter 2 it is “profane and vain babblings” versus the truth of God; in chapter 3 it is men of corrupt minds, who instead of being lovers of God are lovers of pleasure, and who are found opposing the truth, because it is a witness against their godless ways; in chapter 4 it is the love of degenerate fiction that is the root trouble from which men who still profess the name of Christ are suffering.
And Paul is leaving behind him in this ruthless world the enfeebled profession, assaulted by the combined forces of earth and hell; and in view of this he gives his beloved child in the faith a most solemn charge to stand fast and firm amid the general decay, and to keep the testimony of God well before the souls of his hearers. He was to proclaim the Word, be it even “out of season,” as men would speak, and as his own trembling heart might be ready to suggest. He was to reprove, rebuke, and encourage, and that with all long-suffering and doctrine. With him it was to be the energy of divine love in the power of the Spirit at battle with the spiritual wickednesses in heavenly places who would with malice prepense destroy if possible the last remnant of Christian faith upon earth.
This faith was to be fed and nourished amongst the saints, and it was also to be published abroad in the world. Timothy was to do the work of an evangelist. Love never fails. It cannot be enfeebled by apostasy, it cannot be killed by treachery, it cannot be crushed by opposition, it cannot be frozen to death by neglect; it withstands the severest winters, the most biting frosts, the fiercest tempests, the most destructive storms of snows and hails and rains. It has melted the hardest hearts, it has broken the most stubborn wills, it has humbled the haughtiest, subdued the most obstinate, and won the most intractable. It is omnipotent, invincible, inviolable. It is self-neglecting, self-denying, self-sacrificing. It is life-imparting, life-preserving, life-nourishing. It is infinite, changeless, eternal, divine: for GOD IS LOVE.
In the power of this love Timothy was to carry on the work of the Lord among the saints of God, and among the nations of the earth. He was to care for the people of God, and he was to preach the gospel to those still unconverted. The great Apostle of the Gentiles was about to put off his armour, and depart to be with Christ. To Timothy he looks for a continuation of that work that had been for so many years carried on by himself. He had found in his pathway of service for Christ much the same character of things that had beset the path of his Saviour: persecution from the world, desertion by his companions, carelessness regarding the interests of Christ. But he had found the Lord Himself all-sufficient. The Lord had stood by him when all had deserted him; and he had the confidence that He would still be at his side, in all the tribulations through which be might yet have to pass.
Wonderful servant of Christ! May we be found close followers of him, and of his blessed Master, until that day when the toils of the present life with all its dangers will have come to an end, and may we be ever found strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus, and never ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of those who are suffering for its sake.