Remarks on 2 Timothy

J. N. Darby.

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A few remarks on the Second Epistle to Timothy may, I think, not be without their use at the present moment. I will embrace in them, as throwing great light on the second, a short comparison with the first, as to its general character.

We get in both epistles what is evidently of the deepest interest, the confidential communications of the apostle to one to whom, above all, he could open out all his heart, and express himself freely. But their characters are very different, and the rather as he could express all his personal feelings. Besides the interest of this, moreover, the general instruction of the Spirit in them is full of import. The first, as is soon perceived, bears in general the stamp of the quietness which characterizes a peaceful development of what was subsisting, in the main, as it had been first established. The second is thrown into individual duties and earnestness, because that which had been established had departed from all consistency with its original standing.

The first epistle just guards the truth which was possessed, but is little occupied with it. Individuals were to be hindered teaching any other doctrine. Some few, hankering after the law, had already turned aside and gone into vain janglings. But in the main the apostle could speak of the church as being that which is always true to the responsibility of the position it is in, without its suggesting a painful sense of the discordance between fact and responsibility; namely, that it was the pillar and ground of the truth. Individuals had fallen into Gnostic Judaism. The assembly was still practically, as it always is in responsible position, the pillar and ground of the truth. It had not falsified its character. The church, and the church alone, until judicially rejected of God, sustains the truth before the world, though grace sustains the church. Men may minister the truth, but the church, by its profession, sustains it. This thought brings no present distress to the apostle's mind. It gives occasion to the prophetic declaration, that in the latter days some would depart from the faith. Timothy was to put the brethren in remembrance, so that they might be on their guard when that came; but the body of the epistle supposes the church, in the main, untroubled in this respect, though there were dangers seen in the horizon, as in Acts 20, and it is occupied, assuming the truth to be maintained, with the order and comeliness of the house of God - how Timothy ought to behave himself in the church, which was the pillar and ground of the truth. It arranges the order of the house in the various practical details of its administration on earth, from the elders who should rule in it, to the care of widows and the church's duty in respect of them, keeping in view family ties and the obligations flowing from them. It is the whole order of the church upon earth, and the due administration of it. The church is looked at as in this world, not as the body of Christ. It is the house of the living God, and assembly here on the earth, the vessel and maintainer of the truth in it.

368 The apostle looked to exercise still his administrative care himself, but instructed Timothy meanwhile how to behave himself, having his attention fixed on divine things, and exhorts him to fight the good fight of faith in view of the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ. In a word, it is the due administration of the church upon earth, awaiting the Lord's appearing as the term of the responsibility. As a whole the church is seen as that to which the mystery of godliness was confided, and it was the maintainer of it on the earth. The danger of running into law and Gnostic asceticism is warned against; but as yet the church, as such, maintains the truth, and has only to be rightly administered.

It will be remembered that Timothy was left at Ephesus to guard against any preaching of any other doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3), though instructed in the administrative order of the assembly; and this runs through the epistles, applying that truth withal to practical purposes, shewing it as the truth as it is in Jesus.

In the second epistle the assembly is still there; but it is viewed as a great house, in which vessels to dishonour are to be found. Here the truth, as with John, takes a prominent place, that is the maintenance of the truth, individual faithfulness to the truth, and individual piety. He looks for devotedness and courage in the individual, in the man of God. Church privileges are not before his mind. He can dwell on the Jewish faith (the truth in their day) of Timothy's mother and grandmother (and the mother had married a Greek), and that of Timothy, as all running in the same divine channel and flowing from the same divine source.

We have two characters of the assembly. It is like a great house, it has vessels to dishonour as well as to honour, and it would have, in the perilous times, the form of piety but deny its force. As to the facts which gave occasion to this train of thought, they are evident. The apostle had been deserted by the saints, and was looking soon to leave the assembly, and he knew what would come in after his departure, and warns of it. "All in Asia had turned away" from him: he was glad to have one that cared for him in his prison! The Lord had indeed none. The brethren, some from worldly motives, some doubtless for service, but at any rate all but Luke, had left him. They had not in their hearts to stand by him in his witness. They had not left Christ as to the faith, but they could not hold fast in such an exposed place as Paul's. So at his first answer on his trial, "no man stood by him," "all men forsook him"; but he knows whom he has believed. It was to Christ he had committed his happiness, and He would keep it safe for him. A crown of righteousness was laid up for him. He had fought the good fight, he had kept the faith.

369 Thus strong individual personal faith, with the sense that the assembly had failed and not held on to the ground on which his soul walked, is that which gives the character and key-note to this epistle. Still unclouded personal courage is that which he looks for. But the state of the assembly on the earth may first occupy us, and then individual duty. It did not maintain church elevation in its position. Of this Paul was the representative. I doubt much if Timothy was at Ephesus at the time (Tychicus was sent there); but the epistle to the Ephesians gives, at any rate, what I mean by church elevation in its position. We know how Paul was converted by the revelation of a heavenly Christ, accompanied by the declaration that all saints were one with Himself. How the fact that men, Jew as well as Gentile (for he was a pattern of a Jew), were children of wrath, that man was alienated from God, dead in trespasses and sins, that it was a risen Christ he knew, and did not know Him after the flesh, and that all in Him was a new creation, a second Adam, characterized the teaching of the apostle. How the elevation of his doctrine, which judged all flesh and shewed what the church really was, awakened the opposition of fleshly religion and human pride. He had first been in bonds for this, he was now on the borders of death, but he had kept the faith - had indeed "not counted his life dear unto him."

But here the great body of the saints held back. It pressed them out too much against the world, and the world against them; and they shrank back; he was deserted as well as persecuted. It is this aspect of things which he had to contemplate. He was largely like the Lord in it; standing as it were between two worlds, his service finished in one, and yet not passed into the other. Timothy took, comparatively with Paul, John's place with the blessed Lord on the cross.

370 In the service of ministry there was a power which raised not only above sin (Christ, of course, was absolutely free from it) but above nature, when it was not sin, but where admission of it would have been a hindrance and so a failure, and incompatible with the undivided service to the Lord. "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" So, when one would bid adieu at home, the Lord says: "he that hath put his hand to the plough and looketh back, is not fit for the kingdom of God": a man must hate his father and mother. So Paul: "henceforth know we no man after the flesh." He took no counsel with flesh and blood. But when the Lord had closed His service, He said, "Woman, behold thy son; son, behold thy mother." So the apostle here returns to the thoughts and feelings of nature (I do not mean as evil, but human) kindly associations. He opens his heart to Timothy, is mindful of his tears, desiring to see him that he might be filled with joy. He had served God from his forefathers, thinks of the piety and faith of Timothy's mother and grandmother, feels too his isolation, can speak of his cloak and books and parchments. He is, in spirit, passing out of his ministry, in which he was sustained above all nature, into gracious and tender feelings (but not apart from nature), and solemnly commending the charge which Timothy was to take up to his care and responsibilities. He who had represented the church in its higher character, and sustained it in his spiritual energy, was now in prison. This, for any but especially for such a servant of God, is full of touching interest.

But the church had lost withal that character in which the divinely given elevation of his spirit could have found its sphere. He had his own place from God. He was a masterbuilder; and, however he could prophetically point out what was coming on, and give just warning as to it, one may justly ask oneself, how he could, such as he was, as given of God, have wrought in the declining state of things - the rapidly corrupted church, which did not keep, we may say, a day after his death, the consciousness of the elevation of its position, or the clear doctrine of justification as risen with Christ It sank down to its conventional place in this world. No doubt the knowledge of Christ in that place made it incomparably superior to the world, to say nothing of individual salvation. But how could Paul have descended there? He would have been more than useless. He would have been in conflict with the whole church, when it was falling - not reviving - or have sanctioned, helplessly, the state he disapproved of No; God orders all things rightly. When the church is just turning into a great house, all having abandoned the apostle, the apostle, called up of God, abandons the no longer applicable service, having fought the good fight and finished his course; and leaves to John, in his singularly blessed Ephesus, to record the abandonment of their first love, and to secure individual faithfulness and walk where corporate consistency had failed. Meanwhile, what is ever our duty in our place, he urges on Timothy devoted and courageous faithfulness whatever the state of the assembly may be, and shews the saints' united path in it. This state of the assembly on earth in its elements, its form, and our path of duty in it, I have now to inquire into.

371 Life and incorruptibility according to grace (given us in Christ Jesus before the world was) are now before his spirit, death being abolished in its power. The Fulfiller of the promise to the seed of David was raised from the dead. We have to suffer - endure hardness - not to be ashamed of the testimony, nor of its being in prison: a day is coming which will set all clear; at His appearing, and His kingdom, He would judge. There is here, note, no thought of rapture, or church privilege. I will touch on this farther on.

What then is the state of the assembly? What principles govern it? I think I see the form of the settling down of the church into the world, in the doctrine of Hymenaeus and Philetus: if the resurrection is passed already, here we are settled in our ultimate state. It had not been formed into a system, it was only in the form which took away expectation of the Lord and heavenly hopes; for, if the resurrection was passed, Christ, in spiritually freeing His people, had set them down here contented in their worldly abode. It was, if not eternity, the germ of a kind of spiritual millennium without Christ. The church was no longer a stranger and a pilgrim, a bride waiting for the Bridegroom; she was settled down into a permanent accepted place on the earth. It was a sad, probably unperceived, departure; but unperceived, because the sense of what the church is was gone.

372 That it marred the character of the assembly on earth as the recognized gathering together in one of the children of God who had been scattered, the manifestation of God's elect ("knowing, dearly beloved, your election of God"), (a decay already hinted at, 1 Cor. 10), and the body of Christ, is evident from what the seal of the sure foundation of God was: "the Lord knoweth them that are his." They were not publicly and distinctively manifested. It was no longer "the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved," nor the "perfecting of the saints, the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come," etc. This form of truth is gone: the Lord Himself knows, and only He, who His chosen ones are. And the same thought is stamped on the reverse of the seal, man's responsibility to act up to his profession so that it might be evidently real: if a man named the name of Christ (plenty might be doing it), he was to depart from iniquity.

This state of things at once introduces the form it would take. In a great house you must expect vessels to dishonour as well as to honour. That which had, in being formed, been the body of Christ seated in heaven (and in Him seated there itself), and the proper suited habitation of God by the Spirit on the earth, was now a great house, where vessels to dishonour were to be expected to be found. But this, while itself guiding the conduct of the saints would, in the last days, develop itself into a terrible system of formed evil. Perilous times would come: men (for there was no real ground to call them saints or Christians - whatever their pretensions and claims, the guiding Spirit would not call them so, but "men") there would be, lovers of themselves, etc., having a form of piety, and denying its power. It was not the church letting evil in, or slipping away from its true heavenly character. To tell the truth as to it, you must begin at the other end. Men, what was really the will and wit of men, would, under the name of Christianity, be as bad as the heathen had been, have their will in wickedness, and clothe themselves in the form of piety, denying its power. Such were the predicted forms of evil, and placed as present things, thoughts for all times, under the eyes of Timothy, as the sphere of his own responsibility - so soon did the church depart from its faithfulness - the outward form a great house; and then the activity of these lovers of pleasure, without a trace of real piety, busy to lead foolish minds astray under the forms of piety!

373 Let us now see the spirit in which the saint, taught of God and watchful, has to walk, what our divine directions are. The first and most marked characteristic is the way the apostle looks for spiritual courage. God has not given us the spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. He was to be partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God. No shame as to the testimony; no shame as to the shame it brought on those who were faithful. He was to be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus. Personal faith was to grow in the measure in which evil grew, and the saints declined. He was to endure hardness, not to entangle himself with affairs of this life. He must fight according to rule. There was a power above all the power of evil. If Paul was bound, the word of God was not. God carries on, in spite of all, His own work. He is above all the circumstances which affect us. We do not sufficiently believe that the works that are done upon the earth, He doeth them Himself. Our part is to trust Him. So Paul had walked in enduring energy of love.

See here how like he is to his Master; he uses language (bringing in Christ as the power of it) which Christ Himself might have used. "Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory." So Timothy was to make full proof of his ministry. If he suffered with Christ, he would reign with Him.

The next point is holding fast the truth in the form taught by the apostle - the first doctrine taught. He was to hold fast the form of sound words heard of Paul, in faith and love in Christ Jesus. We have Paul's words certainly in his epistles, and nowhere else. There is no progress in revealed truth; in understanding it there is. And it has been formally expressed, and by that we have to hold fast.* It was a deposit of doctrine committed to him. In these days this is of all importance. The pretext of development, of the influence on the apostles of their age and its habits of thinking, all make this holding the forms of truth given by the apostle supremely important. In fact development was the first path of error; philosophy soon came in at Alexandria, and the simplicity and divine perfection and purity of truth were lost. Full grace, and our being saved, now that we believe, shone distinctly in this truth (chap. 1:9-10).

{*This is practically a very important direction of the apostle - truth having been formally presented according to divine wisdom, to hold it fast in that form. An apostolic formulary, if any seek that out of scripture, does not exist; as is well known. The creeds are centuries after scripture.}

374 Another important principle laid down, when the form of piety reigned denying the power, is faith based on the authority of the teachers then sent of God and the holy scriptures. These suffice to make the man of God perfect. The acknowledgment of the authority of the apostolic writers, and of the inspiration and sufficiency of the scriptures to make wise unto salvation, "perfect, throughly furnished," is another mark of the sound Christian in the perilous times of the last days. Connected with this is the place the truth takes. There is such a thing as the truth. This has to be held at all cost. The Lord tells us, "the truth shall make you free," "sanctify them through thy truth": "thy word is truth." So here silly women cannot come to the knowledge of the truth, the deceivers resist the truth. These would soon turn their ears from the truth. Timothy was to teach meekly, in hope that God might give repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth. Thus, known direct apostolic authority (which no tradition can give, for I cannot say from whom I learned it so that it should have the apostle's authority), truth in the form of words given by the apostle, the scriptures, known truth, and the holding these fast, characterize the approved disciple, when decline and unfaithfulness had come in.

Again, enduring, faithfulness, persecution, as contrasted with ease and profession, practically mark the divine path. Not uncertainty as to salvation, and a laborious procuring of it: we are saved, and called with a holy calling, according to God's purpose, before the world began. Death is abolished, so that we are not under its fear. Life and incorruptibility are brought to light. We are in the bright and blessed liberty of saved ones, for whom the whole power of death is destroyed. This was to be fully maintained. On the other hand the gospel brought afflictions: Timothy was to be partaker of them according to the power of God; Paul was suffering for it; Timothy was to endure hardness as a good soldier, be disentangled from the world; so Paul was enduring all things for the elect's sakes.

375 But it was not merely those ministerially active who would suffer. There was another source of persecution, not Christianity now in itself, but seeking to live godly in Christ Jesus. The form of piety with abounding evil would prevail; but piety, the seeking to live godly, not to join the current of worldly profession, would be persecuted. The professing church being in this state, the assembly in general would be a great house, and vessels to dishonour allowed in it. This leads to ecclesiastical direction, so to speak. Carelessness as to doctrine, departure from the truth, and a worldly carnal state of the professing church prevailing (in which the sense that, risen already in Christ, we were looking for a resurrection to take us out of this whole state, was lost), and what called itself Christian settled into a recognition of man this side death. What was the Christian to do? Purge himself from these, so as to be a vessel meet for the Master's use. He could not leave the profession of Christianity, corrupted as it had become, that is clear; nor was he to sanction the corruption, nor could he correct it as regards the public profession. Nay - evil remained - seducers would wax worse and worse. He was to purge himself from them.

But his practice was to be equally exact. Avoiding lusts, he was to follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace. Was he then to isolate himself in his walk because of the evil, in thus pursuing godliness and grace? He was not. He was to recognize and distinguish those who called on the Lord out of a pure heart. If it be asked, how can he do this? My answer is, the apostle tells us to do it; he does not suppose we cannot. It was to be done. I may not be able to distinguish a person to be such. That is possible. I am not his judge; but he is not one of those who are pointed out as those with whom I should walk. The direction is very simple. The professing church is characterized as a great house containing vessels to dishonour. In that state of things, I am not to rest satisfied with the dishonour; not to think of mending the house nor of leaving it, but of purging myself from those who are so, and recognizing those who call on the name of the Lord (own, and worship Him) out of a pure heart - to walk with them.

Some details remain, which we may notice, but now specially connected with ministry. I start from the holding fast the form of sound words and avoid jangling on profitless questions raised, holding to the truth itself; avoiding strife even in contending for the truth; shunning profane vain babblings - they increase to more ungodliness. This was not the jangling on questions to no profit but error, as we see from the case given. They were to be shunned; nor are we to strive about words to no profit. All these shunnings and avoidings referred to keeping in the simplicity of the truth. From the corrupt profession, forms of piety, and ungodliness, we are to turn wholly away. The former were to be avoided, shunned (it was individual); the latter, left or turned away from.

376 On the other hand, he was to be watchful and diligent to shew himself a workman approved unto God; a workman not needing to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth: it was to be rightly set out, dissected, and applied, as well as expounded according to the mind of God. Then he was to commit what he heard from Paul to faithful men - not put men in office but commit truth to men, faithful men. Truth all through, and truth connected with unaffected and true godliness, is the leading thought of the apostle, and a suffering place in the world because of it, in contrast with an easy-going church. But all his directions are individual, not to fancy he could correct the body; he was to shun, avoid, turn away, etc., and pursue godliness with them that really sought the Lord (not mere profession) out of a pure heart. The testimony and truth were to be held fast at all cost. We see how soon departure from the truth was the enemy's way of bringing in ungodliness and worldliness. Even when the form of godliness is spoken of, it is propagated amongst silly women never coming to the knowledge of the truth. This laid them open. Finally the Lord would be faithful - could not deny Himself.

I have another remark to make here. The promise of life in Christ Jesus is the very starting-point of the epistle - what is livingly personal, not ecclesiastical. So the fulness of grace, as we have noticed (chap. 1:9); but, all through, personal responsibility is dwelt on; and, hence, we are placed, not in presence of privileged hopes but of judgment, I mean even as Christians. For Onesiphorus mercy is desired in that day. Timothy is charged before God and the Lord Jesus, who shall judge the quick and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom. So the crown is a crown of righteousness; men must strive lawfully, and, labouring first, partake of the fruits. The Lord, the righteous Judge, gives him the crown of righteousness; so, as to all others, it is laid up for those who love His appearing. But he had just spoken of His appearing as the time of judging. And so it is, first the quick, and afterwards the dead. How love it? Now this supposes, first, the most complete association with Him and acceptance, judgment being set aside for us.

377 But more, loving His appearing supposes that its present realization awakens no feeling of anything which would have to be judged, which would hinder our loving that which will set aside evil. It is the time of glory for us. When He shall appear, then shall we appear with Him in glory. But then it is the setting aside evil; so that, if anything is allowed in us, anything not suited to His appearing, if we are not wholehearted in the setting up of His glory, we cannot practically love His appearing. This gives, in the midst of general decline, a solemn but a very blessed character to the instruction of the epistle; indeed it all supposes great personal nearness proportioned to the general decline.

May we so judge ourselves, and so hold fast by that blessed One!