Charles Simeon's Devotional Commentaries
The Spirit of Vital Christianity
2 Timothy 1:7. God has not given to us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
THE real character of Christianity, as infused into the soul of the believer, and exhibited in his life, is by no means generally understood. It forms a man of energy; but of energy combined with suavity, and regulated with discretion. In whoever it exists, it operates like a new creation: it changes, to a very considerable extent, the views, the dispositions, the habits of the soul, so as gradually to "transform a man into the Divine image in righteousness and true holiness." It does not, indeed, so assimilate men, that they shall be in all things the same: there will still remain in every man so much of his original cast, as will occasion an endless diversity in the characteristic features of different saints. Not all the grace that God ever bestowed would produce a perfect identity of character between Peter and John: but the principles which divine grace instils into the soul are the same in every age and every place: and of all its subjects it may be said, "God has given to us, not a spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind."
With a view to open and illustrate these gracious words, I will show,
I. The spirit which God infuses into the souls of his people.
It is "not a spirit of fear."
"Fear" is discarded from the soul that is truly given up to God. There may remain, indeed, what I may call a constitutional fear; (some persons, whose piety cannot be doubted, have a strange and unaccountable fear of this or that animal;) and no depth of religious principle will prevent its operation; for its seat is in the imagination, and not in the heart: but the fear of man, which has so great an ascendant over the carnal mind, will be dismissed; being subjected to, and, if I may so express myself, swallowed up by, the fear of God.
It is a spirit "of power."
A holy resolution will be formed to serve the Lord, and "to follow him fully." Whatever means be used to deter a child of God from his purpose, he will hold on his way. Father, mother, brother, sister, houses, lands, yes, and life itself, are regarded by him as of no account, in comparison with his duty to God: he "hates them all" in comparison of his God and Savior: as for sin, it is a foe which he pursues with unrelenting animosity, determined, through grace, that not one lust shall continue in him unmortified and unsubdued. His besetting sin, whatever it may be, is pursued by him with more than ordinary vigilance, if by any means he may prevail to bring it into subjection, and to destroy it utterly. And he does advance from victory to victory; finding that, however weak he be in himself, "through the strength communicated to him from above, he can do all things."
This power, however, is blended with a spirit "of love."
The energy which we have just spoken of has somewhat of an unamiable aspect; and would be unamiable in the highest degree, if it were not tempered with love. To resist all authority of parents, and the solicitations of most endeared relatives, bears with it an aspect of culpable self-will, and of deplorable self-conceit. The believer, therefore, must be particularly on his guard to cut off all occasion for such misapprehensions. His whole spirit must savor of love. He must show, that whatever he does, he does from absolute necessity: and that, as far as love can operate in conformity to God's will, no child of man shall exceed him in the cultivation of it. Even towards his persecutors this must be in active and continual exercise; his fixed determination being, "not to be overcome of evil, but to overcome evil with good."
Yet, not even love must be left to operate but under the direction of "a sound mind."
Enthusiasm is no part of true religion: it is rather in decided opposition to it: and is always the offspring of an ill-regulated mind. True religion is wisdom; and God, when infusing it into the soul, gives us "sound wisdom" and discretion. A man under the influence of divine grace will pause before he acts; and will weigh, as in a balance, the claims of duty, as they may be affected by times and circumstances. He will carefully distinguish between things necessary, and things of only subordinate importance. He will attend to the time and manner of doing what he judges to be necessary; so as to strip it of all needless offence, and to "cut off occasion from those who seek occasion against him." Both in the world and in the Church, he will be anxious so to demean himself, that all who behold him shall acknowledge that God is with him of a truth. He will give no needless offence in anything; but will labor, with David, to "behave himself wisely in a perfect way."
But, that we may the better appreciate his spirit, we will mark,
II. Its peculiar importance, in order to a due discharge of the ministerial office.
The words before us were addressed more immediately to Timothy, a young and pious minister: and they deserve the very special attention of all who either are, or hereafter may be, engaged in the ministerial office.
In such must be found no spirit "of fear."
A minister is a standard-bearer: and if he faint, what must be expected of others? He must go with his life in his hand: he must "set his face as a flint" against the whole world. No confederacies, whether of men or devils, must appal him. His spirit must be that which is described by the prophet: "Truly I am full of power by the Spirit of the Lord; and of judgment, and of might, to declare unto Jacob his transgression, and to Israel his sin." And, in the midst of all the afflictions that can come upon him, he must say, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I may but finish my course with joy, and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the Gospel of the grace of God."
But in them must be conspicuous a spirit "of power."
They have more difficulties to encounter than others. They stand in the forefront of the battle: and they must be examples, not to the world only, but to the whole Church of God. To Timothy, while quite a youth, it was said, "Be you an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." If a minister be overcome of any evil, the injury done to the Church of God is incalculable. The whole ungodly world will take occasion from it to exult over him, and to "blaspheme the very name of God himself," yes, they will harden themselves in their own iniquities, and impute to the Gospel itself the evils which they see in him. He must "be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord; for then only shall his labor not be in vain in the Lord."
In them too, more especially, must be a spirit "of love."
Nothing but a love to immortal souls can reconcile them to all the labors and difficulties which they have to sustain. They should therefore "have compassion on them that are ignorant and out of the way," they should be able to "call God to witness that they have great heaviness and continual sorrow in their hearts" for their perishing fellow-creatures: and they should be ready to welcome even death itself, if it may but be subservient to the spiritual welfare of their brethren. At the same time, their whole deportment should be regulated by this benign principle. Everything they do should proceed from it; everything which they suffer should call it into exercise: and their whole walk should be, like that of their Divine Master, in a spirit of love.
But, in all their diversified circumstances, they must show themselves under the influence of "a sound mind."
In no situation is wisdom so requisite, as in the discharge of the ministerial office: for, as the circumstances of the minister are more arduous, and his trials more diversified, than those of others, so a want of judgment in him is more deeply felt than in any other person; because the prejudices of many are strengthened by it, and the souls of many are hardened in their sins. A minister, therefore, must be particularly attentive to this point. He must have a well-regulated mind. His views, both of truth and duty, must be clear: his judgment, in relation to everything, must be accurately and wisely formed. He must be freed from every bias that may influence his mind, and from every lust which may blind his eyes. He must be cool, considerate, prayerful: he must feel his entire dependence on God to guide him aright: and must cry to him for that "wisdom, which is profitable to direct." And, where God has really fitted a man for the ministry, there will be, though in different degrees, "a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of counsel and of might, a spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord; all concurring to make him quick of understanding in the fear of the Lord."
1. To you, then, who have not received this spirit, I would say, "Seek it of the Lord."
It is the gift of God: it cannot proceed from man: it may come to us through man; but it is from God alone, even from Him, "from whom comes every good and perfect gift." Whether we be ministers or private Christians, this spirit is indispensable to our eternal welfare. No man can be saved without it. "The fearful" shall go into the lake of fire, as certainly as "whoremongers or murderers," the man who for want of strength draws back, "draws back unto perdition," the person destitute of love is no better than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal," and the man devoid of wisdom will perish. I say then, seek this spirit; "so shall you have good understanding, in the sight both of God and man."
It is remarkable, that, when Paul is instructing Titus how to speak to the cases of both old people and young, he specifies many things which he would have him insist upon with old men and old women, and with young women also: but with young men, everything that was essential was comprehended in one single point; "Exhort young men to be sober-minded." On this, therefore, I would particularly insist; because with sobriety of mind every grace will flourish; but without it, no man can ever walk worthy of the Gospel, or adorn, as he ought, the doctrine of God our Savior.
2. To those who have received it, I would say, "Stir it up within you."
This was the direction given to Timothy: "Stir up the gift of God that is in you;" that is, stir it up, as you would a fire which is in a anguishing condition. The fire, which burned upon the altar, came down, as you well know, from Heaven; but it was to be kept alive by the care of man. So must the fire that is kindled in us be ever kept burning on the altar of our hearts: we must "stir it up," by reading, meditation, and prayer: and the very opposition which is made to the Gospel must call forth in us the greater energy in its defense. Paul was now imprisoned for the Gospel sake. This might be a source of alarm to Timothy, and induce him to draw back from that measure of activity and zeal which might bring down similar vengeance upon his head. But the Apostle says to him, "Be not ashamed of the testimony of the Lord, nor of me his prisoner; but be partaker of the afflictions of the Gospel, according to the power of God." So say I to you. Let "none of you be ashamed of the Gospel of Christ;" but rather account it an honor if you are called to bear a measure of those afflictions which are allotted to the followers of the Lamb. They will try your graces: they will also tend to quicken them, and make them burn with redoubled brightness. Let growth in grace, then, be henceforth your great concern; and, whatever will conduce to that end, do it with diligence, or welcome it with delight.
2 Timothy 1:9. Who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.
THE deepest truths of our religion were familiar to the mind of the Apostle Paul. He introduced them, on all occasions, as the most forcible motives to obedience. Among us, their practical efficacy is denied, and their importance questioned. The very maintaining of them is not unfrequently deemed a crime; but we must not conceal the truth, because some reprobate it as error. We will state it cautiously; and it will commend itself to all. In the text, we have ample instruction in relation to the Christian's calling: we see,
I. The nature of it.
There is an outward call of the Gospel, which is resisted by many; but that of which the text speaks, is inward and effectual.
It is a call,
1. To salvation as the end.
If it were only, as many think, a call to outward privileges, it still would establish God's right to bestow his blessings on whoever he will. But the Scriptures represent it as a call to the adoption of children, to eternal life, to everlasting salvation. The connection between salvation and the call, is, as in the text, uniform and inseparable.
2. To holiness as the way.
If holiness were not included in the call, the doctrine of election would certainly be open to insurmountable objections: but holiness is that to which we are immediately and distinctly called. It is required of us, not only in general, but in this particular view. It is declared to have been particularly in the mind and intention of God, in our predestination, election, effectual calling, and in the whole work of his grace upon our hearts. Our perseverance also in good works was equally in his contemplation. When our acceptance and salvation are most distinctly spoken of as the end, holiness is carefully stated as the medium through which we are to attain them.
The Christian's calling is further to be considered, in reference to,
II. The grounds of it.
Nothing can be more plain than the Apostle's statement: he tells us, both negatively, what our calling does not arise from; and positively, what it does:
1. It is not founded on our works.
It cannot be founded on any good works already done; for we never had done, or could do any, until we were called by grace. It could not be founded on good works foreseen: for they were to be the fruits of our calling, and therefore could not be the ground or occasion of it. Had our works, whether done or foreseen, been the proper ground of our calling, we should have had a ground of boasting before God. Hence God has repeatedly and expressly declared, that they never operated in any respect or degree as inducements with him to confer upon us his converting grace.
2. It is founded solely on his purpose and grace.
God formed his purposes from all eternity; and agreeably to them he acts. In consequence of them we were given to Christ, as his purchased possession; and a promise of life was given to us in him, and for his sake. It was in conformity to them that the Jews were made God's peculiar people; and in conformity to them we Gentiles also are called to a participation of his favor.
From hence we shall take occasion to answer some important questions:
1. How shall I know whether I have been effectually called?
It cannot be determined by any dreams, or visions, or fanciful experiences. It can be known only by the fruits which we produce.
2. What have I to do on the supposition I have been called?
You are not at liberty to indulge supineness, as though you were sure of Heaven at all events. You should exceed all others in holiness, as much as you profess to surpass them in your prospects. You should walk worthy of the favors conferred upon you, and of the Benefactor who conferred them.
3. What privileges do I enjoy as one of God's elect?
Survey the wheels of a watch, and see how, in all their complicated motions, they accomplish one important end. Thus does all the machinery of the universe, whether more or less connected with men or devils, move in reference to your present and eternal good. Of this you may be assured; and it may well endear to you the doctrines in the text.
Death Abolished, and Life Revealed
2 Timothy 1:10. Who has abolished death, and has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel.
TO the free and sovereign grace of God must all our blessings be traced. Nothing did we ever merit at his hands, or can we ever merit, but wrath and indignation. From all eternity did God ordain to give us whatever he has bestowed. The gift of a Savior was the fruit of his eternal love; as was also the gift of salvation by him. Both the one and the other are the fruit of his eternal counsels: and the appearing of Jesus Christ, as the author of these blessings, was, not the cause, but the result and evidence, of purposes already formed, even of "purposes which from all eternity he had purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord."
But, not to insist on this, I would call your attention simply to the fruits of God's purpose; and show you what, in consequence of his eternal counsels, the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us. I will show,
I. What he has done for us in his own person.
Death had been introduced by sin; and it reigned over the whole human race. In the curse denounced against transgression, "In the day that you eat thereof you shall surely die," both the body and the soul were alike consigned to death. But from this curse the Lord Jesus Christ has delivered us. "He has abolished death,"
1. From the soul.
The soul, by reason of transgression, was despoiled of all spiritual life, and was doomed to everlasting death. But the Lord Jesus Christ, by "becoming a curse for us," has so cancelled our guilt, that "there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus." His death has been a sufficient "atoning sacrifice for the sins of the whole world"—and "all who believe in him are justified from all things."
By his Holy Spirit, too, the same Divine Savior removes spiritual death from our souls. He infuses into us a principle of life, whereby we are enabled to live unto our God in righteousness and true holiness. Previous to the implantation of this principle in our souls, we have no more activity in spiritual exercises than a dead body has of sense and motion. But, when raised by him, every sense receives a spiritual power and direction. We see, and hear, and taste, and feel, and savor the things of the Spirit—and "walk from thenceforth in newness of life."
2. From the body.
True it is, that "the body is still subjected to death;" as it is said, "It is appointed unto men once to die." But to those who believe in Christ, the nature and character of death are changed. It is not so properly death as sleep: "Our friend Lazarus sleeps." "Stephen," in martyrdom, "fell asleep." And all the saints, instead of dying, merely fall "asleep in Jesus." Hence we find the saints triumphing over it as a vanquished enemy;" yes, and numbering it among their richest treasures: "All things are yours, whether life or death."
But, allowing it a short and momentary triumph, it will at last be totally "abolished." For in the last day, all that are in the graves shall come forth, every one possessing his own proper body: for "what has been sown in corruption and weakness and dishonor, shall be raised in incorruption and power and glory;" and "this mortal shall put on immortality." We see in our Lord Jesus Christ both a pattern and a pledge of our own resurrection: for "our vile bodies shall be fashioned like unto his glorious body," and be partakers with the soul in all the glory and felicity of Heaven.
But let us further view,
II. What he has done for us through the instrumentality of his word.
"He has brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel."
These were not known to the heathen world. As for the resurrection of the body, it was derided by them, as a vain and foolish imagination: "What will this babbler say?" And, though some of the wiser philosophers entertained some faint conceptions about the immortality of the soul, it was in their minds a matter of surmise or of opinion only, and not of knowledge: it was never a fixed and operative principle in the minds of any, except the Jews; and even in their minds its operation was but very rare and partial. But the Lord Jesus Christ "brought life and immortality to light,"
1. As a matter of undoubted certainty.
Through the whole of his ministry, he inculcated as of primary and indispensable importance, a regard to eternal life, both of body and soul.
2. As the portion and inheritance of all his people.
Though he declared that an eternal state awaited all, he made a broad distinction between his believing people and others. To the impenitent and unbelieving it would be a state of inconceivable misery; but to the obedient, a state of inconceivable and endless bliss: "The hour is coming," says he, "in the which all that are in the graves shall hear the voice of the Son of man, and shall come forth, they that have done good, unto a resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, to a resurrection of damnation." Indeed, he sets before us the whole process of the day of judgment, and the doom that shall be assigned to all, according to their respective characters; "the wicked going away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternals."
3. As equally deserving the attention of every child of man.
How merciful is the warning which he has given to all to "enter in at the strait gate, and to walk in the narrow way!" Surely the thought of an eternal existence, either in happiness or misery, should operate upon all; and, if duly contemplated, it will operate on all, to deter them from evil, and to stimulate them in the path of duty. It is impossible for one who cordially embraces this sentiment not to set himself in earnest to secure the happiness provided for him in the Gospel.
See then, brethren,
1. How highly you are privileged above the heathen.
There is not a child among us, that is not wiser in this respect than all the philosophers of Greece and Rome—But what if we do not improve our knowledge? Shall not the heathen rise up in judgment against us, and condemn us? Yes, truly: "the people of Tyre and Sidon, yes, of Sodom and Gomorrah, will find it more tolerable for them in the day of judgment than we," if we do not avail ourselves of the light afforded us, to "flee from the wrath to come, and to lay hold on eternal life."
2. What obligations we owe to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
To Him we owe both the light that has discovered these things, and the salvation that renders this discovery so delightful. To what purpose would the eternity of rewards and punishments be made known to us, if a way to avoid the one, and obtain the other, had not been revealed? It would have only been to "torment us before our time." In truth, there are none more miserable than they, who, being assured of the immortality of the soul, are ignorant of the way in which they may obtain acceptance with God. Glad would they be, if there were no future judgment. Glad would they be, if, when the time of their departure from the body arrives, they could be annihilated altogether. What is it that makes the very mention of death so painful to the generality of men? It is the dread of an hereafter, which offers to their view no prospect but of "wrath and fiery indignation to consume them." But to you who believe in Christ, and look to him for the remission of your sins, all this gloom has passed away, and "glory and honor and immortality" present themselves to your view as your assured portion! O! bless that adorable Savior, who by his own death has abolished death, and by his own ascension to glory has shown to you're the felicity that awaits you. Only hold fast your confidence firm unto the end, and his crown shall be your crown, his kingdom your kingdom, his glory your glory, forever and ever.
Confidence in God a Source of Consolation
2 Timothy 1:12. I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.
MAN is born to trouble: and it is of the greatest importance to him that he should know where to turn his eyes in the day of adversity. The Gospel directs us to a reconciled God in Christ Jesus, who has engaged to be our support and comfort under every distress. The Christian has many trials peculiar to himself: but the Gospel is fully adequate to his necessities. Its power to support him may be seen in the passage before us. Paul is exhorting Timothy to steadfastness in the cause of Christ: and, for his encouragement, he tells him what was the ground of his own consolations under the heavy afflictions which he was now enduring for the sake of Christ. He tells him, that, notwithstanding he was immured in a dungeon, and in daily expectation of a violent and cruel death, he was neither "ashamed" nor afraid: for that he had a firm persuasion of God's ability to keep him; and that persuasion afforded him ample support.
To illustrate the text, we may observe,
I. The Christian commits his soul to God.
The Apostle doubtless committed unto God the concerns of the Church: but it is rather of his soul that he is speaking in the words before us, because it was that which alone could be in danger at the day of judgment. In like manner,
Every Christian commits his soul to God.
We know what it is to commit a large sum of money to the care of a banker: and from thence we may attain a just notion of the Christian's conduct. He has a soul which is of more value than the whole world: and he feels great anxiety that it should be preserved safely "against that day," when God shall judge the world. But to whom shall he entrust it? He knows of none but God that can keep it; and therefore he goes to God, and solemnly commits it into his hands, entreating him to order all its concerns, and, in whatever way he shall see best, to fit it for glory.
To this he is prompted by manifold considerations.
He reflects on the fall of man in Paradise, and says, 'Did Adam, when perfect, and possessed of all that he could wish, become a prey to the tempter, when the happiness of all his posterity, as well as his own, depended on his steadfastness; and can such a corrupt creature as I, surrounded as I am by innumerable temptations, hope to maintain my ground against my great adversary? O my God, let me not be for one moment left to myself; but take you the charge of me; and let "my life be hid with Christ in God," then, and then only, can I hope, that at the last coming of my Lord I shall appear with him in glory.'
He bears in mind also his own weakness and ignorance. He is conscious that "he has not in himself a sufficiency even to think a good thought;" and that "it is not in him to direct his way aright." Hence he desires to avail himself of the wisdom and power of God; and cries, "Lead me in the right way, because of my enemies," "Hold you me up, and I shall be safe."
But more especially he considers the gracious commands of God. God has not only permitted, but enjoined, this surrender of our souls to him. O what a privilege does the Christian account it to obey this divine injunction! How thankful is he who God will condescend to accept this deposit, and to take care of this charge! Hence he avails himself of this privilege, and says, "Hide me under the shadow of your wings!" "O save me for your mercy's sake!"
While he acts in this manner,
II. He is persuaded of God's ability to keep him.
He does not merely presume upon God's sufficiency: he is well persuaded of it,
1. From the report of others.
He is informed by the inspired writers, that God created the world out of nothing; and that he upholds and orders everything in it; insomuch that not a sparrow falls to the ground without his express permission. Hence then he argues; 'Did God create my soul, and can he not uphold it? Did he form my enemies also, and can he not restrain them? Has he numbered even the hairs of my head, and will he overlook the concerns of my soul?'
He is told that God is ever seeking opportunities, not only to exert, but also to magnify, his power in his peoples cause. Shall all that vigilance, then, be exercised in vain? or shall any be able to prevail against him?
He is assured also that God never yet lost one whom he had undertaken to keep: he never suffered "one of his little ones to perish. "None was ever plucked out of his hand," not the "smallest grain of wheat, however agitated in the sieve, was ever permitted to fall upon the earth." "The gates of Hell have never been able to prevail against his Church." Then, says the Christian, "I will trust, and not be afraid." My Savior, in the days of his flesh, "lost none that had been given him," "Whom he loved, he loved to the end;" and therefore I am persuaded he will perfect that which concerns me, and "complete in me the good work he has begun."
2. From his own experience.
The Christian well remembers what he was by nature; and knows by daily experience what he should yet be, if Omnipotence were not exerted in his support. And hence he argues thus; 'Has God created me anew, and by an invisible, but almighty, influence turned the tide of my affections, so that they now flow upward to the fountain from whence they sprang; and can he not keep me from going back? Has he kept me for many years, like the burning bush, encompassed, as it were, with the flame of my corruptions, yet not consumed by it; and "can anything be too hard for him?" '.
These arguments are indeed of no weight for the conviction of others; but to the Christian himself they are a source of the strongest conviction, and of the richest consolation: yes, from these, more than from any others, lie is enabled to say, "I know whom I have believed."
III. This persuasion is a strong support to him under all his trials.
Many are the difficulties of the Christian's warfare: but a persuasion of God's ability to keep him,
1. Encourages him to duty.
The path of duty is sometimes exceeding difficult: and too many have fainted in it, or been diverted from it. But we may see in the Hebrew Youths what a persuasion of God's power will effect. They braved the furnace itself, from the consideration that God could deliver them from it, or support them in the midst of it. And thus will every Christian "encourage himself in God," and "be strong in the Lord and in the power of his might."
2. Strengthens him for conflict.
Under temptations of Satan, or the hidings of God's face, the most exalted Christian would sink, if he were not supported by this hope: "I had fainted," says David, "unless I had believed truly to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living." But the thought that the grace of Christ is sufficient for him, will turn all his sorrows into joy: he will chide his dejected spirit, and return again to the charge, knowing that at last "he shall be more than conqueror through Him that loved him."
3. Enables him to endure sufferings.
Many and great were the sufferings of Paul; yet says he, "None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself." Thus every Christian must "go through much tribulation in the way to the kingdom," but he learns, not only to bear, but to "glory in tribulation," because it gives him a more enlarged experience of God's power and grace, and thereby confirms his hope, which shall never make him ashamed.
4. Assures him of final victory.
Those who have not just views of God are left in painful suspense: but they who know whom they have believed, are as much assured of victory, as if all their enemies were lying dead at their feet.
We shall further improve the subject,
1. For conviction.
All persons are ready to think that they are possessed of true and saving faith. But faith is not a mere assent to the truths of the Gospel, or even an approbation of them. It includes three things; a committing of the soul to Christ; a persuasion of his ability to save us; and a determination to go forward in dependence upon him, doing and suffering whatever we are called to in the path of duty.
Have we this faith?.
2. For consolation.
If there be any among us weak and dejected, let them turn their eyes to God as their Almighty Friend. Let them know that "He is able to make them stand," he is "able to make all grace abound towards them, that they, having always all-sufficiency in all things, may abound unto every good work." It is God himself who suggests to the fainting soul these very considerations; and he requires nothing, but that we wait on him in order that we may experience their truth and efficacy.
"Now unto Him that is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to Him be glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen."
Strength in the Grace of Christ
2 Timothy 2:1. My son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.
HOW shall it be that all of us, who are assembled here this day, should ever get to Heaven, so weak as we are, and so corrupt, and in the midst of so many and great dangers? I look back to the Apostle's days; and find, that when he was in prison at Rome, "all the converts that were of Asia, turned away from him;" but that one pious man, "Onesiphorus, sought him out with great diligence," to relieve his necessities, and to comfort his soul. Now, if reduced to such straits as the Apostle Paul was, for the Gospel's sake, how should we hope to stand? How should we avoid the apostasy of the many, and retain the fidelity of the few? This instruction the Apostle gives to his beloved Timothy: "You, therefore, my son, (seeing how hard it is to stand in times of severe trial,) be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus," that is, 'know that there is grace treasured up for you in Christ: and, in dependence upon that, you shall be able to sustain all the trials that shall come upon you.'
To elucidate these words, I will show,
I. What a fullness of grace there is treasured up for us in Christ.
But how can I present this to your minds in any intelligible shape? Methinks it can be done only in a way of illustration. Take, then, some scriptural illustrations; by means of which you may apprehend, in some considerable degree, the mysterious truth which I wish to submit to you.
Consider Christ, then,
1. As a Vine.
This is our Lord's own suggestion: "I am the Vine; you are the branches." Now we know, that every branch derives all its sap and nourishment from the vine; and that, if separated from the vine, it can bring forth no fruit whatever. This, then, will convey a very just idea of the connection that exists between Christ and his people; and of their entire dependence on him for every fresh supply of grace.
But an gardener prunes the luxuriant branches of his vine; lest the sap being too widely diffused, its influence be weakened, and its fructifying power be abridged. In this, therefore, the image altogether fails: and we must look for one more suitable, by regarding Christ,
2. As a Sun.
This supplies the whole universe with light: and every individual of mankind, when exposed to its rays, enjoys as much of it as if he alone existed upon earth. Nor has he the less of its influence from its being extended to all the millions of mankind. Thus has every believer as much of Christ's gracious influence as his soul can need; having it neither increased by the paucity of those who partake of it, nor diminished by the numbers—"The Sun of Righteousness" is alike sufficient for all.
Yet the sun affords us not the same genial warmth in winter, as in the summer months; and at night it is altogether hid from us. In these respects, therefore, this image also fails. But we shall find an illustration more complete, if we consider Christ,
3. As a Fountain.
Under this character our blessed Lord commends himself to us: "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." But especially is he compared with the rock smitten in the wilderness, "from whence gushed rivers of water," for the supply of all the people of Israel; and which followed them in very abundant streams, through all their journeying in the wilderness. Here then we have a more appropriate image: for as He is the only source of grace to every living soul, so may every one have access to him at all times, to obtain a supply fully commensurate with his utmost necessities. And in this does this image pre-eminently display the fullness that is in Christ Jesus, and the benefit to be derived from it; because "every soul that drinks of that living water has within himself a well of water, springing up to everlasting life," so that, having Christ within him, he can never thirst again, nor want any other source, either of strength or comfort.
Without attempting to give any further illustration of what, after all, can never be adequately comprehended, I will only observe, that the representation is truly scriptural; since we are expressly told, that "it has pleased the Father that in Christ should all fullness dwell," and that all his people are said to "receive, out of his fullness, grace for grace."
Let us then consider,
II. Our duty in relation to it.
We are to "be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus;" that is,
1. We are to apply to him for it with simplicity.
We should have it as a settled principle in our minds, that there is no strength in man, nor any other source of grace than Christ Jesus: and without hesitation we should go to him from day to day, and from hour to hour, to receive it out of his fullness. We should not dream of meriting it at his hands, or of earning it by anything that we can do: we should receive it as freely as the Israelites did the waters that issued from the rock; and should go to it as the only source of all that we need. Did the Israelites, think you, attempt to dig wells in the wilderness, when they had access to that stream? So then should we go to Christ for grace continually, and derive from him all that our necessities require.
2. We are to rely upon it with confidence.
We should never, for a moment, entertain doubts or fears respecting Christ's sufficiency to supply our wants. Whatever dangers threaten us, we should say, "There be more with us than with them," and, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" He has told us, that, whatever be our necessities, "his grace is sufficient for us," and therefore, instead of dreading trials, lest we should be vanquished by them, we should "take pleasure in them, that the power of Christ may rest upon us, and his strength be magnified in our weakness"—"Knowing in whom we have believed," we should look upon "our enemies as bread for us," and view their assaults as preludes only to victory and triumph.
Let me now add,
1. A word of caution.
The circumstance of there being such a fullness treasured up for you in Christ does not in the least degree supersede the necessity for exertion on your part; no, nor of fear and watchfulness. To your latest hour you must be like Paul, who "kept his body under, and brought it into subjection; lest by any means, after having preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away." You will see in the context, that you are to "endure hardness, as good soldiers of Jesus Christ," and your strength in Christ is not to render you forgetful of, but to fit you for, the warfare, which he has called you to maintain.
2. A word of encouragement.
Now, for eighteen hundred years has grace been flowing from the Lord Jesus for the supply of all his people. But do you suppose that his power to communicate is therefore lessened? When "virtue went forth from him," in the days of his flesh, "to heal all the multitudes that waited on him," was there less virtue in him than before? or has the sun lost any of its splendor by all the rays that it has emitted these six thousand years? Know, then, that Christ is still as able to save as ever, and that the very weakest among you all is authorized to say, "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me."
2 Timothy 2:7. Consider what I say; and the Lord give you understanding in all things.
HERE we behold a parent addressing his beloved son: here we behold an Apostle addressing the whole Church of God. In like manner would I now, with an union of parental love and apostolic authority, address you, my brethren: and I pray you to consider what I say: and may the Lord "give you understanding in all things!" The points to which I would draw your attention are,
I. The things proposed for Timothy's consideration.
Of course, we must look to the preceding context, to see what the Apostle had been saying. He had been urging Timothy to a performance of his ministerial duties: and to ministers the subject primarily belongs. But the duties are also of general import: and we may all consider ourselves as included under the different images that are here set before us:
1. As soldiers.
In soldiers are required energy and devotion; such energy as will bear them up under all difficulties; and such devotion, as supersedes every other engagement, and determines them fully to approve themselves to the commander under whom they fight. Now, my beloved brethren, to this character all of us, both ministers and people, are to be conformed. We are all engaged to "fight the good fight of faith," and to "war a good warfare," under "the Captain of our salvation." For every one of us is armor provided, even "the whole armor of God; which we are to put on," and by means of which we are to withstand all our enemies. But in this warfare we must, of necessity, meet with great trials, yes, and must sustain many afflictions. For, where is there a Christian who has not "his cross to bear, while following his Lord?" A soldier, by his very profession, expects to encounter difficulties: and his mind is made up to bear whatever evils he may meet with in the discharge of his duty: and precisely thus must we, having once girded on the sword, be prepared for privations, exertions, conflicts; and we must never think of rest, until all "our enemies are bruised under our feet."
As for other occupations, the soldier feels that he has no time for them. He cannot alienate his time and attention from the duties of his calling. The concerns of agriculture and commerce he leaves to others: and he concentrates all his energies in the more immediate duties of his profession; having no wish, no desire, but to approve himself faithful to his commander and his king. Thus, my brethren, it must be with us: with ministers in a more especial manner; because for them, by divine appointment, is a provision made, in order that they may be able to give themselves wholly and exclusively to the service of the sanctuary: and it is greatly to be regretted, that, in our Church, the provision made is so small as to render a compliance with God's appointment in this respect, in many instances, impracticable. But I hesitate not to say, that for a minister to "entangle himself in the affairs of this life" beyond what is necessary, is not the way to "please Him who has chosen him to be a soldier." And the same would I say, to a certain degree, respecting Christians in general. They have, it is true, and must have, their temporal employments, to which it is their duty to pay very diligent attention. But yet these must all be subordinated to the higher duties of religion: they must "seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness;" and disregard "the meat that perishes," in comparison of that which "endures to everlasting life." Every man must perform his duties in social and domestic life: but we must be "without carefulness," and, while our heads and our hands are occupied with earthly pursuits, "our affections must be altogether set upon things above." To please our God must be, at all times and under all circumstances, our one concern.
2. As wrestlers.
The Apostle often takes his illustrations from the Grecian games. Here he compares us with wrestlers, who, however much they might exert themselves, were not crowned, unless they conformed exactly to the rules which were prescribed to the contending parties. Now we, both ministers and people, are called to "wrestle, not with flesh and blood only, but with all the principalities and powers of Hell," and we have laid down for us, in the inspired volume, rules, to which we must rigidly adhere in all our conflicts. It is not sufficient that we put forth all our strength: we must put it forth in God's appointed way. For instance: Are we assaulted with evil? We must "not render evil for evil," but rather "do good to them that hate us;" and must persevere in this contest even to the end; "not being overcome of evil, but overcoming evil with good." Our blessed Lord has "set us an example," under every species of conflict and of suffering: and we are "to follow his steps." Paul, also, is a pattern which we should follow. He was "a man of like passions with us," and therefore we may hope, that the grace which wrought so powerfully in him will work effectually in us also; and enable us "to be followers of him, as he was of Christ." A soldier never thinks of following his own mind or will in anything. He looks to the orders issued by his commander; and to them he strictly adheres. Thus also must we, having not so much as a thought or wish to follow our own will, but a full determination to conform, in every particular act, and in the whole state and habit of our mind, to the revealed will of God. In a word, "we must strive lawfully," and in the precise way that God has marked out for us: and it is in that way alone that we can hope to have the crown of victory accorded to us.
3. As gardeners.
We all know that the gardener prosecutes his labors with a patient expectation of a distant, but rich reward. He does not expect the seed to produce a harvest the instant that it has been sown. He looks for many changes of the weather; and passes through many alternations of hope and fear; but he is sustained, through all, by a humble hope, that, in the end, God will give to him the fruit of his labors. Thus also must we, both ministers and people, go on in the work assigned to us; and, "by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honor and immortality." We must not be discouraged because events do not turn out according to our wish or expectation. We must "wait the Lord's leisure;" and "let patience have its perfect work, that we may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing." "He who believes, must not make haste." "Every vision is for an appointed time: and if it tarry, we must wait for it, assured, that it shall come in due season, and not tarry one instant beyond it." God had promised to Abraham to bring his posterity out of Egypt, at the distance of four hundred and thirty years: and had they been kept there one day longer, his promise would utterly have failed. But that self-same day that the period was completed, he brought them forth. So, however long we may have to wait for a successful issue of our labors, we must "never faint or be weary in well-doing;" but must proceed with cheerfulness, assured, that "in due season we shall reap," and "our labor shall not be in vain in the Lord."
Now then attend, I pray you, to,
II. The injunction given him in relation to them,
First, says the Apostle,
1. "Consider what I say."
No good can be hoped for, even from apostolic instructions, if they be not duly and attentively considered. Now then let all of you consider, How vast and arduous are your duties. In the preceding context you have seen how all the offices of a soldier, a wrestler, and a gardener, are combined in you: and, in fact, there is not any office sustained by any man on earth, from the king upon the throne to the meanest slave, that is not concentrated in you. You are called "a royal priesthood," and if you, every one of you, are "kings and priests unto God," you may well suppose that every subordinate employment must find its counterpart in you. Conceive, then, all the diversified occupations of all the human race to devolve on you, so far at least as to have their respective energies required at your hands; and then you will form some notion of the duties to which you are called.
But "consider," also, how great and indispensable are your obligations to fulfill them. Ministers, doubtless, are bound by the most solemn ties to "fulfill their ministry;" not only because they have been most solemnly called to this office, and have pledged themselves to the performance of it, but because the souls of their people will be required at their hands. But every Christian, in his baptism, has consecrated himself to God: and every one, inasmuch as he professes to "have been bought with a price," acknowledges himself bound to "glorify God with his body and his spirit, which are his." Now then, consider this. Consider what that price is with which you have been redeemed, even with the precious blood of your incarnate God; and is there any service which you will account too arduous to engage in, or any suffering too heavy to endure, for the honor of his name? It was well said by Paul, "I beseech you by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, and acceptable to God, as your reasonable service," and truly this is your reasonable service, that, as the burnt-offerings were wholly consumed upon the altar in sacrifice to God, so should every faculty of your souls be wholly and exclusively devoted to your God.
Yet one thing more I beg you to "consider;" and that is, How rich is the recompense that awaits you. Look at the gardener toiling at his work in the midst of winter; what a hopeless task does he, in appearance, perform! but look at his fields in the time of harvest, and you will say he is richly compensated. Thus will a minister find all his labors and sufferings abundantly repaid, when he shall bring before his Lord "those whom he has begotten by the Gospel;" saying, "Here am I, and the children you have given me." And how richly will every Christian be recompensed, when he shall hear, from the lips of his adored Lord, those glorious words, "Come, you blessed children of my Father! inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Go, survey the glory and blessedness of Heaven; and then say, my brethren, whether anything can be too much for us either to do or suffer, in the prospect of such a recompense. Would you but consider these things as you ought, you would think that all the labors of the most devoted soldier, all the exertions of the most strenuous wrestler, and all the patience of the most laborious gardener, are but faint representations of what may well be required at your hands.
2. Seek of God an experimental acquaintance with them.
Truly it is God alone that can bring you to such a state as this. He alone can enable you to discern even the necessity of if, and much less its excellency. The unenlightened man would account such a life as this "foolishness;" and a person aspiring after it would be condemned as a weak enthusiast, that was "righteous over much." To long for it, as the perfection of your nature, and as a Heaven upon earth, is a feeling which no man on earth can possess, until he is born again, and renewed in the spirit of his mind by the Spirit of the living God. It is altogether a new creation in the soul of man.
Moreover, God alone can guide you in such a path as this. Whether a person be a minister or a private Christian, he shall find, that, in this high and heavenly course, there are situations wherein no human wisdom could guide him aright. There is a film over the eyes of man which obstructs his sight, and a bias in his heart that perverts his judgment. Never, until God has opened the eyes of our understanding, shall we see our way. When God has given us "a single eye, our whole body will be full of light;" but until then, "the light that is in us will be all darkness." See the situations and circumstances to which Paul was often reduced; and think how an unenlightened man would have acted in his place: and you will soon see that, however "man may devise his way, God alone can direct his steps."
Once more:—It is God alone that can uphold us in the discharge of such duties. Recall to mind all that has been set forth under the images to which my text refers; and then say, "Who is sufficient for these things?" Who can support the soul, so as that neither the world with all its temptations, nor the flesh with all its corruptions, nor the devil with all his wiles, shall be able to divert it from the path of duty, or to obstruct its progress in the heavenly life—who can do this but God alone? I say then, look to God to give you these high attainments, and to "fulfill in you all the good pleasure of his goodness." Limit not either his power or his grace; but "open your mouth wide, and he will fill it."
I conclude with repeating the injunction in my text: "Consider what I say; and the Lord will give you understanding in all things."
Paul's Love to the Elect Exemplified
2 Timothy 2:10. I endure all things for the elect's sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.
THE labors of faithful ministers are, for the most part, but ill requited by a wicked and ungrateful world. But, in the midst of all the opposition they meet with, they have the consolation to know, that all efforts to stop the progress of the Gospel shall be in vain. This was Paul's comfort, when imprisoned at Rome for the word's sake, that, however he might be bound, the word was not; and "therefore" he submitted the more cheerfully to his troubles, being assured, that his endeavors to save the souls of his fellow-creatures would be crowned with success.
This subject leads us to consider,
I. Paul's love to the elect.
Notwithstanding the word "elect" has passed into a term of reproach, there most assuredly is an elect people, "a remnant according to the election of grace," whom "God has chosen to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth."
Towards these Paul felt a peculiar regard.
He loved all, even his very enemies, and would gladly have submitted to the heaviest afflictions for their sake. But his love to the elect was both more exalted in its nature, and more abundant in its degree. He considered them as the special objects of God's love; as children of the same heavenly parent; as members of the same mystical body; and as fellow-heirs of the same glory. Hence they were all engraved on his very heart: and hence he exhorts us, while we do good unto all men, to do it more especially unto the household of faith.
For their sake he willingly endured every trouble that could come upon him.
No man ever endured so much as he in his Master's cause. This we may see from the long catalogue of his troubles which he himself has left us. But, says he, "None of these things move me," "I rejoice in my sufferings for the elect's sakes;" "most gladly will I spend and be spent for them, though the more abundantly I love them, the less I be loved," I am so "affectionately desirous of them, that I am willing to impart to them, not the Gospel only, but my own soul also, because they are dear unto me," "yes, if I be offered (and my blood be poured out as a libation) upon the sacrifice and service of their faith, I joy and rejoice with them all, and desire them also to joy and rejoice with me;" for, so far am I from looking forward to it with fear, or accounting it an occasion of grief, that I esteem it a blessed subject of mutual congratulations.
How amiable and praiseworthy was this heavenly disposition!
Certainly the love of Christ in dying for us, infinitely exceeds all that ever was manifested by any human being. But, next to Christ, Paul seems to have most abounded in love to man. He was indeed a very bright resemblance of his Divine Master. And what a world would this be, if all were actuated by the same spirit and temper! Even those who cultivate least of this spirit themselves, must confess, that the universal prevalence of it would make a very Heaven upon earth.
But the Apostle's regard to the elect was not a mere carnal affection, as we shall see, if we consider,
II. The end he aimed at on their behalf.
The happiness provided for the elect, is exceeding great and glorious.
For them is reserved "salvation," even salvation from sin and Satan, death and Hell. It is, moreover, a salvation "with glory;" not a mere exemption from punishment, but an unspeakable felicity in the immediate vision and fruition of their God. Nor is it ever to come to an end: its duration will continue as long as the soul itself shall exist. To crown the whole, it is a salvation in Christ Jesus, not merely as it is purchased by his blood (though that will infinitely enhance its value) but as it is treasured up in him, and shall be enjoyed in and through him, as the one medium of its communication forever and ever.
That they might obtain this, was the great object of his desires, the one scope of his labors.
He had no doubt at all respecting his own salvation. But could he be content to go to Heaven alone? No; he would gladly have drawn all he could along with him. It was for this end that he became all things to all men: and to this he looked forward as his joy, his hope, his crown of rejoicing. There was not one weak, but he sympathized with him; not one turned aside, but he burned with an ardent desire to restore him. To such a degree was his soul bound up in the welfare of the elect, that he could say, "Now I live, if you stand fast in the Lord," nor did anything appear too great for him either to do, or suffer, provided he might be instrumental in accomplishing this blessed end.
1. What reason have most professors of religion to be ashamed of their attainments!
Beyond a doubt, the Apostle's spirit ought to be the spirit of all Christians. But how little of it is seen in the Christian Church! How many are there who are ready to "bite and devour one another," instead of being willing to lay down their lives for each other! And how little self-denial is there even in the best of us! How little will we do, or suffer, either for the temporal or spiritual welfare of our brethren! Let us blush at our want of love; and labor henceforth to benefit the bodies, and more especially to save the souls, of all around us.
2. How infatuated are they who have no concern for their own souls!
Wherefore was Paul so earnest for the salvation of others, but because he knew somewhat of the value of a soul? He knew its happiness, if saved; and its misery, if lost. Shall another then be more concerned for us, than we for ourselves? Shall another be ready to do and suffer all things for us, and we be unwilling to do or suffer anything for our own good? Let us remember, that no present gratifications can compensate for the loss of salvation; and that eternal glory will infinitely over-balance all that can be endured in the pursuit of it.
3. How must they be blinded by the devil, who oppose the salvation of their fellow-creatures!
There are too many who scoff at piety, and endeavor, by ridicule or persuasion, to turn men from the practice of it. Alas! what an awful contrast do their characters form with that of the Apostle! Let such consider the warning given them by our Lord, that it were better for them to have a millstone hanged about their neck, and to be cast into the sea, than they should offend one of his little ones.
The Equity of God's Procedure
2 Timothy 2:11–14. It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: if we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: if we believe not, yet he abides faithful: he cannot deny himself. Of these things put them in remembrance.
STRANGE as it may seem, it is no uncommon thing for men to arraign the equity of God, and to accuse him of undue severity in the execution of his judgments. The Jewish people of old complained, "The ways of the Lord are not equal," and God, for his own honor's sake, was constrained to vindicate his character in this respect; which he did in an open appeal to their judgment, and a candid exposition of the modes of his procedure. "O house of Israel, are not my ways equal? are not your ways unequal?" 'If a man have sinned and repent, I forgive him: but if he turn back to his former wickedness, I make no account of his temporary reformation, but visit all his iniquities upon his head. Is this unequal? Is it not consonant with strict justice?' In like manner Paul declares, in the passage before us, that God will act towards men as they act towards him; requiting with good his faithful servants, and marking the disobedient as objects of his displeasure. And that he may the more deeply impress this truth upon our minds, he introduces it with assuring us, that "it is a faithful saying."
From his words we shall be led to consider,
I. The rule of God's procedure in reference to our future destinies.
The whole Scripture declares that he will deal with men according to their works; that "to those who by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but that to them that are contentious, and obey not the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there shall be indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, even upon every soul of man that does evil.
To this effect we are here told how God will deal,
1. With the godly.
It is here supposed that the godly will "die with Christ, and suffer with him." And it is true, that all his faithful followers are "crucified with him," and "dead with him." As he died for sin, so they, in conformity to him, and by virtue derived from him, die to sin: they no longer suffer it to act without control, as once they did, but they "mortify it in all their members," and "crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts." In acting thus, they of necessity condemn the "world around them, who are lying in wickedness," and ordering their course agreeably to the will of Satan, who works in them, and "leads them captive at his will." In consequence of this, they are hated, reviled, and persecuted, as their Savior was; and are called to "suffer," even as he suffered. There is not one of them who has not his cross to bear. Times and circumstances may cause a difference as to the degree in which they shall suffer: but there is no exception whatever to that declaration of the Apostle, "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution."
Now how will God deal with these? Will he overlook them as unworthy of his notice? Will he afford them no support, and recompense them with no reward? Far be it from him; for "if we be dead with Christ, we shall also live with him;" that is, he will enable us to execute our holy purposes, and to rise superior to all our spiritual adversaries, even as he did when he rose again from the dead. This is the explanation which Paul himself gives us: "If we have been planted in the likeness of his death," says he, "we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. But he who is dead, is freed from sin. Now, if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him; knowing that Christ being raised from the dead, dies no more: death has no more dominion over him: for, in that he died, he died unto sin once; but in that he lives, he lives unto God. Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord." The same Apostle also gives it as his own actual experience: "We are always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our body: for we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal flesh." Thus does the Lord Jesus fulfill the promise which he made in reference to this very point; "Because I live, you shall live also."
Moreover our God engages, that, "if we suffer with Christ, we shall also reign with him." Our services shall not be forgotten. There is "a crown of glory prepared for all them that love him," even on that very throne which Christ himself occupies, shall they be seated with him. Yes; it is a faithful saying, that "they who suffer with him shall also be glorified together."
This then will be the mode of God's procedure towards his faithful people: and according to the same rule will he proceed,
2. With the ungodly.
These are here designated as "those who deny him." Now there are two ways in which this may be done; namely, either by an open and avowed rejection of his Gospel, or by a timid concealment of our convictions. Of the former we shall have no occasion to speak, because it is the latter class only that are referred to in our text; and because all that we shall have occasion to say respecting the latter, must of necessity be in a yet stronger degree applicable to the former: for, if those who do believe in Christ, but through fear of persecution are deterred from confessing him openly, will be disapproved by him, much more will they who impiously blaspheme his name, and pour contempt upon all the wonders of his love and mercy.
Our Lord requires, that we should confess him openly before men. But there are many, who, "when persecution or tribulation arises because of the word, are offended," and dare not face the obloquy, or encounter the perils, that await them. And how will the Lord Jesus Christ deal with them? Will he take no account of their cowardice? Will he be satisfied with such a mode of requiting all his love? No; he will deal with them in the way that they deal with him: "they are ashamed of him; and he will be ashamed of them, in the day that he shall come in the glory of his Father, and of all his holy angels," "they deny him; and he will deny them." And this is nothing but what they may reasonably expect: for if their love to him is so small, that they will not endure a little shame, or submit to some trifling loss, for his sake, how can they expect to be approved as good and faithful servants? How can they suppose it possible that they should partake of that felicity which is reserved for those who fought the good fight of faith, and "loved not their lives unto death?" This indeed would be unequal: such inequality shall never be found in the judgments of our God: for "they who loved their lives, shall lose them; and they only who are willing to lose their lives for Christ's sake, shall save them unto life eternal."
That no doubts on this subject may rest upon our minds, I will go on to state,
II. The assurance we have that he will proceed according to this rule.
The declarations of God on these subjects do not obtain the credit they deserve.
Many of the godly are apt, through the weakness of their faith, to yield to doubts and fears. When feeling the depth of their corruptions, they think it almost impossible that they should ever be able to subdue them: and, when menaced with heavy trials, they doubt whether they shall ever be able to support them.
The ungodly, on the other hand, boldly question whether God ever can proceed with them according to his word. They do not hesitate to say, that such a procedure would be cruel and unjust. 'If indeed they were to abandon themselves to all manner of wickedness, they might then expect the Divine judgments: but when they can have no gross evils laid to their charge, is it to be supposed that God will punish them to all eternity, merely because they do not (as they will call it) make a parade of their religion? That is nothing but a conceit of enthusiastic zealots: God is too good to act in such a way, or to visit with such unmerited severity what, at the worst, can only be deemed an excess in the exercise of prudence'.
But, whether believed or not, they shall all be fulfilled in their season.
"Our unbelief will not make the truth of God of none effect." Whatever he has spoken, he will surely execute; as it is said, "God is not a man, that he should lie; neither the son of man, that he should repent. Has he said, and shall he not do it? Has he spoken, and shall he not make it goody?" Were he to reverse his word for us, he would cease to be a God of truth. He has pledged himself for the accomplishment of every word that he has spoken: and "he cannot deny himself."
True it is, that he is not pleased with the weakness of his people's faith. He complained of it in Peter: "O you of little faith, wherefore did you doubt?" But he will not on this account neglect to fulfill to them his promises. He has engaged in behalf of those who die unto sin, that "his grace shall be sufficient for them;" that "their strength shall be according to their day;" and that "they shall be more than conquerors, through Him that loved them." Their doubts and fears will indeed distress their minds, and weaken their efforts, and subject them to many anxieties from which a stronger exercise of faith would have freed them: but still he will not cast them off because they are weak: "he will not break the bruised reed, or quench the smoking flax; but will bring forth judgment unto victory." And in the last day he will recompense into their bosom all that they have done or suffered for him. He will say, "You have been faithful in a few things; be ruler over many things: and the precise measure of their glory shall be proportioned to the labors and sufferings to which in this life they had submitted for his sake.
In like manner, to the ungodly he will award a sentence of condemnation proportioned to their deserts. It will be to no purpose that they expostulate, and ask, as if aggrieved by his sentence, "Lord, have we not in your name cast out devils, and in your name done many wonderful works?" He will be altogether inflexible; and will say, "Depart from me; I never knew you, you workers of iniquity."
The importance of this subject appears from the solemn charge with which Paul enjoins Timothy to "put his hearers in remembrance of it." The same charge is in fact given to every minister of God's word: "Put your people in remembrance of these things." In compliance with this command I will now proceed yet further to remind you of them,
1. For your conviction.
It is to no purpose to dispute against God. A criminal may dispute against human laws if he will, and may determine beforehand that they can never be executed against him. But the only effect of his confidence will be, to deceive his own soul, and to involve himself in irremediable ruin. Let him be ever so assured of impunity, he will not be able to stop the course of the law, or to prevent its execution upon him. How much less then can we suppose that the arm of God's justice shall be arrested, and the very truth of God violated, to rescue a man from perdition, merely because he will not believe that God will fulfill his word. I must declare to you, that all such hopes are groundless: and I call upon you carefully to examine the state of your own souls. Are you "dead to sin," to all sin, so that no iniquity whatever is suffered to have dominion over you?—Are you openly confessing Christ before men, so that it is seen and known "whose you are, and whom you profess to serve?" Are you "following him without the camp, bearing his reproach;" and not bearing it only, but "rejoicing that you are counted worthy to suffer for his sake?" In a word, are you Christians, not in word only, but in deed and in truth? These are the inquiries which you must make; for by them alone can you ascertain your state before God. Say not, that, in requiring these things, we require too much: for if God require them, and will receive to mercy those only in whom these requisites can be found, it will be to no purpose to contend with him. Be wise in time: and so endeavor to approve yourselves to God now, that he may approve of you in the day of judgment.
2. For your comfort and support.
The workings of unbelief have harassed many who were truly upright before God: and therefore we should not write bitter things against ourselves, merely because we possess not a full assurance of faith. David on some occasions was quite overwhelmed with doubts and fears. Hear his complaints: "Will the Lord cast off forever? and will he be favorable no more? Is his mercy clean gone forever? Does his promise fail for evermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger shut up his tender mercies?" But whence arose all this? Had it any foundation in truth? No, he immediately acknowledges, "This is my infirmity." So then do you say, when doubts and fears assail your minds. Remember, God is a faithful God, and not one jot or tittle of his word shall ever fail. "Of those whom the Father gave to Jesus, he lost none;" nor will he ever lose one: "not the smallest grain of true wheat shall ever fall upon the earth;" nor "shall one of God's little ones ever perish." Only commit yourselves to God, and leave the issue of events to him. Your part is to be seeking a conformity to Christ in his death and resurrection; and his part is to carry on and perfect his work within you. Be intent on your part; and leave His to him: and you shall be able at the last to say with Joshua, that "of all the good things which the Lord your God has spoken concerning you, all are come to pass unto you, and not one thing has failed."
The Stability of the Covenant
2 Timothy 2:19. The foundation of God stands sure, having this teal, The Lord knows them that are his. And, Let every one that names the name of Christ, depart from iniquity.
GOD has a people whom he will preserve from apostasy: but he will keep them by the instrumentality of their own care and watchfulness. There were some in the apostolic age seduced from the faith, and led to think that the resurrection was passed already. But Paul entertained no fears for the ark of God. He was persuaded that God would keep his faithful people: "they overthrew the faith of some: nevertheless," etc.
I. What is meant by the foundation of God.
It does not seem to refer to the doctrine of the resurrection. The context indeed mentions this doctrine; but the immediate connection of the text is with the apostasy that had prevailed. The "foundation" relates rather to the covenant of grace. In some respects Christ is the only foundation. Nevertheless the covenant of grace may be represented in this light.
It is the foundation of God's dealings towards us.
From a regard to it he bears with us in our unconverted state: from a regard to it he effects our conversion: from a regard to it he endures our backslidings after conversion: from a regard to it he restores us after we have fallen.
It is also the foundation of our hope towards God.
We have no claim upon God independent of the covenant; but in his covenant with Christ, and with us in him, he has engaged to give us all that we want. We receive spiritual blessings, only as being parties in it; the continuance of those blessings to us is only in consequence of our interest in it.
This foundation stands sure.
II. Wherein its stability consists.
The foundation of God is represented as having a seal. This seal is God's unchanging love; "God knows them," etc.
Knowledge is here, as in many other places, put for love: in this sense it is represented as a seal of the covenant. Love is stamped, as it were, on every part of the covenant, gives a kind of validity to it, and is inseparable from it.
This unchanging love is the stability of the covenant.
We should continually forfeit our interest in it: no believer whatever, if left to himself, would be steadfast in it. Our daily transgressions are sufficient to exclude us from it forever; but God's love changes not. He betroths us to himself in faithfulness for ever". He loves and keeps us, not for our sake, but for his own name's sake: hence all our security arises.
The covenant, however, does not make void our obligations to holiness,
III. The improvement we should make of it.
The privileges of Christians are exceeding great: but we are in danger of turning the grace of God into licentiousness. Hence the Apostle cautions us against abusing this covenant.
They "who name the name of Christ" are those who profess Christ's religion; and that profession supposes them to be interested in the covenant. But continuance in sin would be inconsistent with that profession: the covenant prohibits the indulgence even of the smallest sin. It provides strength for the mortification of every lust; it secures holiness to us as well as salvation; it engages for our salvation only in a way of holiness. Let it not then be made a ground of presumptuous security: let it rather operate as an incentive to diligence; let it incline "every one" to stand at the greatest distance from sin.
What rich consolation is here for every true believer!
There ever have been some apostates from the Church of Christ; but their defection does not disprove the stability of God's covenant. The reason of their departure is accounted for by John—Let not then any be dejected when they see the falls of others. God "knows his sheep, and will suffer "none to pluck them out of his hands." Nor need any despond on account of their indwelling corruptions: it is not sin lamented, but sin indulged, that will destroy the soul. Let every one be more anxious to lay hold on this covenant: it will be found at last, that it is "ordered m all things and sure."
Saints, Vessels of Honor
2 Timothy 2:20, 21. In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor, and some to dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor, sanctified, and meet for the Master's use, and prepared unto every good work.
IT was said by a heathen poet, and the truth and importance of the sentiment are strongly marked by its being cited by an inspired Apostle, that "evil communications corrupt good manners." But there is by no means such attention paid to this aphorism as its importance demands. Men will indeed caution their friends against the society of those who are dissolute and profane; but, against those who may distract our minds with matters of doubtful disputation, or lower our standard of Christian duty, no one judges it necessary to put us on our guard. But Paul, that vigilant watchman, that faithful servant of the Most High God, has taught us to shun everything which may pervert our judgment, or corrupt our minds, or in any way impede our progress in the Divine life. In the words which I have now read to you, he shows us,
I. What we must guard against, as injurious to our souls.
Two things he mentions, as necessary for us to be purged from;
1. Error in principle.
Even in that early age of the Church, there were many, who, instead of upholding the faith, sought, by all imaginable subtleties, to turn men from their adherence to it. False teachers there were in great numbers, who "strove about words which were of no real profit, but tended only to the subverting of the hearers." Against these Paul strongly guarded his son Timothy: "Shun profane and vain babblings; for they will increase unto more ungodliness, and their word will eat as does a canker: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus; who concerning the truth have erred; saying, that the resurrection is passed already; and overthrow the faith of some." Now such persons there have been in the Church, from that day even to the present hour. Some will magnify beyond due bounds the importance of some favorite doctrine, to the utter exclusion of other doctrines which have a different aspect. Others will dwell upon the circumstantials of religion, to the neglect of the points that are most essential. Others, again, will attack the fundamentals themselves; "bringing in damnable heresies, and denying the Lord who bought them." Some, like the Pharisees of old, will make all religion to consist in the observance of rites and ceremonies: others will cast off every kind of ritual, and divest religion of every outward form. Some will discard from religion everything that is mysterious or spiritual; while others will spiritualize everything, and involve the most common truths of Scripture in mystery and allegory, like those who reduced the doctrine of the resurrection to the mere introduction of another dispensation, or the moral change that is wrought on the hearts of Christian converts. In fact, there is no end of the absurdities which men will introduce into religion, according to their respective fancies: and their zeal for their respective peculiarities will be considered by them as the best proofs of their zeal for religion. But it will be our wisdom "to purge ourselves from all such persons and sentiments; and to hold fast, with childlike simplicity, the truth as it is in Jesus." For, in fact, these dispositions and habits are the fruits of vain conceit; and they gender nothing but strife and contention. In a word, they all "eat like a gangrene;" which, if not healed, will gradually destroy the whole body.
2. Corruption in practice.
This is invariably connected with the former: for the very alienation of heart, both from God and man, which controversial habits generate, must, of necessity, give advantage to Satan for the infusion of all manner of evil into our souls. Hence Paul, in his advice to Timothy, combines with a caution against error, a caution against sin also: "Flee youthful lusts; but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace with all them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart: but foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes." Among youthful lusts we must doubtless, in the first place, number those corrupt propensities which are so powerful in the time of youth: but we must also number those which are more nearly allied with heresies, while yet they are peculiarly influential on the youthful mind; such as, a love of novelty, a fondness for disputation, a desire after notoriety and distinction. The tempers which these habits generate are extremely hateful to God, and injurious to man. "The filthiness of the flesh," as the Apostle speaks, is, in appearance, more opposite to true religion than what he calls "the filthiness of the spirit," but it is not so in reality: and we must be purged from this, no less than from the other, if ever we would serve God acceptably, or be approved by him in the day of judgment. The beauty of all true religion consists in a childlike spirit, which is the very reverse of that conceit and forwardness which characterize the controversialist and vain disputer. I must therefore guard you, with all earnestness, against everything which may corrupt your mind from the simplicity that is in Christ, or weaken the influence of real piety in your souls.
And, that my exhortation may have the greater weight, let me proceed to show,
II. What benefit we shall derive from this care.
In a great house, the Apostle observes, there is a great variety of vessels; some of purer, and others of baser, materials; some to honor, and others to dishonor. So also, in the Church of Christ, there is a great variety of persons; all indeed in some way or other subserving his interests, and widely differing from each other in their value, their use, and their ultimate destination.
Now those who are infected with evil principles or practice are of no estimation before God.
Their spirit is hateful to him, as is their conduct also; nor are they of any use in the Church of God. They tend rather to corrupt others, than to benefit their souls; and to dishonor their profession, rather than adorn it. In fact, they are base in themselves, and subserve only base purposes: and "their end will be according to their works."
But "those who are purged from these will be regarded by him as vessels of honor, meet for their Master's use.
Under this image, the Apostle means to suggest, that persons of simple minds and pure habits shall be favored with God's peculiar regard, be set apart for his special service, and be made use of for his honor and glory. These are the distinctions conferred on "vessels of gold and silver in a great house or palace;" while the vessels of wood and of earth are disregarded and despised. Now, those nobler vessels are polished with care, in order that they may appear worthy of their owner, and of the uses to which they are applied: so are the godly "sanctified" by the Holy Spirit, and "prepared for every good work" to which they are destined.
Now, I would ask, is not this a great encouragement to us to keep ourselves pure? Is not this honor an abundant recompense for all the self-denial we can exercise, and all the caution we can maintain? See the golden vessel in the hand of the prince; its beauty, its symmetry, its splendor, admired by him; yes, and his own honor, as it were, advanced by it: and can you contemplate yourself thus in the hands of the God of Heaven, and not feel a desire to be accounted worthy of that honor? I say, then, "purge yourselves from" everything which, in a way either of principle or of practice, may defile you, and this honor shall be yours.
Now, then, say whether there be not in this subject abundant matter,
1. For anxious inquiry.
To which of these widely-different vessels may you be compared? Which of them do you resemble, in their essential qualities, or in their habitual use? Are you of gold or silver, or of the baser materials of wood or earth? Are you altogether consecrated to God? or are you occupied solely about the things of time and sense? To assist you in this inquiry, I must observe, that no man possesses, by nature, those higher qualities: they are all the fruits of grace: by nature we are earthly, sensual, devilish: it is by grace alone that we become heavenly, spiritual, divine. And, to judge whether this change have been wrought in us, we must not look to our outward conduct merely, but to that inward purification from erroneous principles and corrupt affections. See, then, whether you have yet been brought to humble yourselves before God, as guilty and undone sinners: see whether you are living altogether by faith on the Lord Jesus Christ, as your only source, either of righteousness or strength; and see whether you are devoting yourselves, unreservedly, to God in all holy obedience: this is the proper test of conversion: all other conversions are of no value: you may go the whole round, from one Church to another, espousing every one of them in succession, and zealously maintaining every distinction, whether in principle or practice, and yet be vessels in which God can take no pleasure, and which shall finally be hid from his eyes as objects of shame only and dishonor. Let this then be, as in truth it ought to be, a matter of anxious inquiry among you all: for I must again declare, that they only shall be approved of their God who correspond with the character drawn of them in our text.
2. For necessary distinction.
Here, you perceive, are "vessels of gold and of silver, as also of wood and of earth;" and, though all of one common origin, and alike of base materials, yet destined, some to honor, and others to dishonor. You perceive, also, that it is God alone who makes the difference between them; changing the nature and end of some, while others are left to their original worthlessness and debasement. Against this our proud hearts would be ready to rise; just as that of the objector did, when Paul declared, that "God had mercy on whom he would have mercy; and whom he would he hardened." Hear the Apostle's statement of the objector's argument; and his reply to it: "You will say then unto me, Why does he yet find fault? for who has resisted his will? Nay but, O man, who are you that replies against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why have you made me thus? Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory?" This is the answer which I also must make to any one who shall object to the statement which has been before made. I grant, yes, I assert, that all, as born into this world, are base in their nature, their use, and their end: and it is grace alone, even the sovereign grace of God, that changes them so that they become vessels of honor for his use. I assert, too, with the Apostle, that the same power which the potter has over the clay, our God has over all the works of his hands. But there is a distinction which the Apostle has made, and which we must ever bear in mind, that, though it is God alone who prepares any for glory, yet man fits himself for destruction: so that, while the godly have no ground for boasting, the ungodly have no reason whatever for complaint. To all eternity must those who are vessels of honor ascribe the glory to their God; but the vessels to dishonor will, through all eternity, be constrained to take all the shame to themselves.
3. For grateful adoration.
Let any one contemplate the state of a pious soul in glory. Let him see the feast that is there spread, at which God himself presides. Let him behold the vessels of gold and silver, polished to the utmost possible perfection, the ornament of the feast, the honor of their God; and every one of them filled to the utmost brim with all the richest effusions of blessedness and joy: then let him contrast with these the vessels of wrath, filled with the overflowings of God's wrathful indignation: let any one, I say, contemplate the contrast; and then determine, whether those monuments of grace and mercy have not grounds for gratitude and praise? I trust, that to many of this description I am now addressing myself; and to them I would say, See to it that nothing which can defile, be admitted within you: see also that you be more and more polished every day and hour, that you may grow in a fitness for the honor that awaits you. And be looking forward to the time when your final destiny shall be awarded to you; and you shall, as objects of God's love, and monuments of his grace, be forever "filled with all the fullness of your God."
The Great Ends of the Ministry
2 Timothy 2:25, 26. In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God perhaps will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.
THE work of the ministry is arduous in the extreme, not only on account of the labors in which a pastor has to engage, but on account of the opposition he meets with from those whose welfare he seeks. He has to call men from all which by nature they affect, and to stimulate them to much for which they have an utter distaste. But the hope of ultimately benefitting immortal souls is sufficient to carry him forward; and, if he be himself of a becoming spirit, he will persevere with patience and long-suffering, "meekly instructing those that oppose themselves, if God perhaps may give them repentance to the acknowledgment of the truth."
To enter fully into the subject before us, I must set before you,
I. The state of unconverted men.
I am not aware that there is any other passage of Holy Writ that places this matter in a more humiliating view, than that which we have just read.
The unconverted man is altogether a slave of Satan.
The agency of Satan is but little thought of by us, though it occupies a very prominent place in the Scriptures of truth. His influence over Judas and Ananias shows what he can effect, if God see fit to withdraw the restraints which, from love to mankind, he has imposed upon him. This malignant fiend is, in fact, "the God of this world;" and all mankind, while in their unconverted state, are his vassals—Yet it is not by force that he reigns over them, but by subtlety. He "takes them captive;" but it is by "snares" that he allures them, and draws them into his net. He knows what is suited to each, as a fowler or a fisherman does to the taste and appetite of the different creatures he would decoy: and he finds the whole human race ready enough to yield to his devices, and to surrender up themselves to him according to his will—To persons in early life he offers the gratifications of sense; and to those at a more advanced period the acquisition of wealth and honor. Nor is he more anxious to ensnare them, than they are to swallow the bait which he has laid for their destruction—In truth, if they were to form a deliberate purpose to serve Satan as far as they possibly could consistently with the preservation of a good character among men, they could not do it more effectually than they already do. Satan would not wish them to live in a more entire neglect of God and of eternity than they do: nor could he wish them more habitually to cheat themselves with a mere name and form of godliness than they do.
And this is the state of all, without exception.
Men have their different tastes: one loves gross immorality, while another prefers a self-complacent round of outward duties. But these are only the baits which they affect: their radical neglect of God and of his Christ is the same in both. The Apostles themselves, not excepting Paul in his unconverted state, were once subjects of this great usurper: "We ourselves," says Paul, "were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures." And by whose influence they were kept in this awful condition, he tells us in another place: "And you has he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins; wherein in time past you walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the children of disobedience: among whom we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind." Here, you perceive, they were actuated by their own lusts; yet did they most effectually accomplish the will of the great deceiver—"His they were, and him they served;" and from that kingdom of darkness must all be delivered, if ever they would "be translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son."
The directions given to Timothy, for the regulation of his conduct towards them, leads me to notice,
II. The efforts of ministers in their behalf.
Ministers are appointed of God to instruct the world in the things which belong to their everlasting peace.
They are to rescue men, if possible, from the power of Satan.
They find men sleeping in security, and, like persons in a state of intoxication, unconscious of their danger: and they endeavor to awaken them. With this view they cry, "Awake you that sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light." They call the poor unhappy victims to "repentance, and to an acknowledgment of the truth as it is in Jesus." They set forth the claims of their God and Savior to their allegiance, and the evil and danger of continuing in rebellion against him. They declare, that if they will submit themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ, he will forgive all their past sins, and bring them into the glorious liberty of the children of God—This they do, to lead the poor captives to cast off the yoke of Satan, and serve the living God.
But their only hope of success is in God alone.
They know how vain it would be for them to engage in this warfare, if God himself do not interpose to give them the victory. They know, that though "Paul should plant, and Apollos water, God alone can give the increase." Nor are they sure that he will work by them: much less do they know for whose particular benefit they may be sent. They can only "draw their bow at a venture," and leave it to God to direct the shaft. A mere "perhaps," however, is quite sufficient to stimulate their exertions. If they be but the happy instrument of delivering one soul from Satan's yoke, they will account it an ample recompense for a whole life of labor. With their ministrations to men, therefore, they unite their supplications to God; if perhaps he may "give to any a repentance to the acknowledging of the truth." Only let the gifts of repentance and faith be given to any soul, there will be an end of Satan's power over them. Their chains and bars shall all give way before them: and, like Peter, they will come forth out of their prisons, as monuments of the Redeemer's power, and as witnesses for him to an ungodly world.
Let me offer two requests:
1. Acknowledge your state to be as God has described it.
It is so, whether you will acknowledge it or not—And, O submit no longer to such a degrading vassalage. Awake from your intoxication, and contemplate the issue of your present bondage—And may God of his mercy overcome the resistance which you have hitherto made to our ministrations, and turn you, even by our feeble efforts, "from darkness unto light, and from the power of Satan unto God!"
2. Unite your own efforts with ours, for your deliverance.
There must be a concurrence on your part for your ultimate deliverance. We cannot effect it: and God will not, without your own cordial cooperation. Doubtless it is he who must give you both to will and to do: but still you must "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling." Though you are "drawn by God, and made willing by him in the day of his power," you are "drawn by the cords of a man," and from thenceforth act as willingly as ever you did in the ways of sin. Arise then to the work of repentance, and to an open acknowledgment of the truth: so shall your chains be broken, and "Satan himself be bruised under your feet shortly."
2 Timothy 3:1, 2. This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves.
THERE is in the inspired writings frequent mention of what will take place "in the last days." But in these words very different and distant periods are referred to. Sometimes they designate the time of the Christian dispensation; sometimes the day of judgment; and sometimes, as in our text, a season between these, when very great and important changes will take place in the Church of Christ. Immensely important changes have already taken place, as in the successful efforts of Antichrist, both in the Mohammedan and Popish powers: and still further changes we look for in their overthrow. But it is remarkable, that every event predicted, as to take place at these distant periods, actually commenced in the apostolic age: and John says, "Even now are there many Antichrists." As for the evil spoken of in my text, the Apostle declares, that, though predicted as to occur "in the last days," it did exist at that very time, to a great extent; and that, when it should prevail in the way that he described, very perilous and troublesome times would have arrived. For the elucidation of the subject before us, I will endeavor to show,
I. What is the disposition here reprobated.
It is self-love: "Men shall be lovers of their own selves." But we are not to imagine that every kind and degree of self-love is sinful. On the contrary, the desire which God has infused into the soul of every man to promote his own welfare, is proposed by God himself as a standard, agreeably to which we are to regulate our love to our neighbor: he calls it "a royal law," as being established by himself; and he declares, that, in accommodating ourselves to it and "loving our neighbor as ourselves, we do well." Nay, more; our blessed Lord compares with it the love which he himself bears to his own Church and people: "No man ever yet hated his own flesh, but nourishes, and cherishes it, even as the Lord the Church." Still, however, when it becomes inordinate, it is a very hateful disposition, evil in itself, and abominable in the sight of God. Self-love is then sinful,
1. When it induces a forgetfulness of God.
God should be acknowledged by us as the only source of all good; for "from him proceeds every good and perfect gift," and for his glory should everything be done; as it is said, "Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." But self-love robs him in both these respects: it leads men to ascribe their success of every kind to their own wisdom and power; and at the same time to seek their own gratification only in the enjoyment of all that they possess. Now what can be more hateful, than for a man to be "sacrificing to his own net, and burning incense to his own drag," when he should be adoring God for the mercies given unto him? or what more abominable, than for a man to be "living to himself," when he should be consecrating all his powers to the service of his Creator and Redeemer? In fact, what is this, but to idolize ourselves, and to put ourselves in the very place of God? Covetousness and sensuality are expressly called idolatry: yet are these but branches proceeding from the root of inordinate self-love; which is nothing less than practical atheism, or a "banishing of God from all our thoughts."
2. When it operates to the injury of our neighbor.
Our neighbor, in his place, has claims upon us, no less than God himself. Whoever we be, whether of high or low degree, what are we but members of one great family; yes, and members too of one body? Now, in a body, no member is to consult its own separate interest at the expense of others, but every one to seek its own happiness in the welfare of the whole. But self-love banishes all these considerations, and sets aside every obligation arising from them. Now, we are told, from authority, that whatever a man may possess, or whatever he may either do or suffer in the service of the Lord, "if he have not charity" towards his neighbor, so as to render unto him his dues, "he is no better than sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal." Whatever he may pretend, "his faith is dead;" his love is hypocritical; his "religion is vain."
Lamentable are those times, and pitiable that society, where this disposition reigns. Consider, I pray you,
II. The danger attendant on it.
Consider the danger,
1. To those who are under its influence.
There is no evil which will not find a ready access to their minds; nor is there any situation in which they will not betray their selfish propensities. Whether in civil or social life, they will render themselves hated and despised. Towards the state, they will be always full of murmurs and complaints. And, in their fellowship with their families and neighbors, they will be occasions of pain to all around them. They will be displeased with every person that stands in any respect in competition with them; and will quarrel with everything that militates in the least degree against their favorite propensity. In all their transactions in business they will be straining to gain some undue advantage, and will make the minutest differences subjects for dispute. See what the Apostle connects with this character: "Men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false-accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasure more than lovers of God." It is not necessary, indeed, that all these evil qualities should be combined in the same person: but there is in self-love a tendency to produce them, so far as a person's circumstances are calculated to call them forth. Nor will there be found in such persons any redeeming quality, or anything to compensate for these evil dispositions. Their selfishness so engrosses their minds, as to render them incapable of any noble exertion, either in a way of piety or benevolence. The lover of self will love none else, at least not in such a degree as to make any great sacrifice either for God or man.
2. To the cause of Christ in the world.
It is granted, that a man who is "a lover of his own self" may be instructed in the truths of religion, and observant of its forms: "He may have a form of godliness; but he will be destitute of its power," nor is there any great hope of ever benefitting him by the ministration of the Gospel. The word preached either sinks not into his mind at all, or, if sown in his heart, is "choked with thorns and briers, so as to bring forth no fruit to perfection." Nor is this all the evil that accrues from his hateful dispositions. He sets others against the Gospel; and "causes the way of truth to be evil spoken of," and "the very name of God to be blasphemed." Besides, by his spirit and conduct he stirs up corruption in all around him; and even foments in them, by re-action, the very dispositions exercised by himself. Hence, instead of unity in the Church, there will be dissension; and the minister will derive nothing but grief from those over whom he ought rather to rejoice. This I apprehend to be the primary idea in the Apostle's mind, when he calls the times, of which he speaks, "perilous," that is, troublesome, grievous, and perplexing. And certainly it must go ill with any Church where such characters abound.
We may see, then, What is mainly to be looked to,
1. In estimating our own character.
I would not undervalue religious sentiments: but they are of no worth, if they be not productive of suitable dispositions and conduct. Do not then inquire, whether you have attained a scriptural creed, and "a form of godliness;" but whether "the truth has made you free;" free from selfish principles and selfish habits. The man whose heart is right with God will account nothing of any value, any further than it can be improved for the honor of God and the good of man. Even life itself is held by him only as a victim ready to be sacrificed, whenever a proper occasion shall call for it. See how the Apostle Paul acted: he accounted not his life dear to him: on the contrary, if called to lay it down for his brethren, he regarded it as an occasion, not of grief, but of joy. Ah! brethren, see how much you have acquired of that spirit; and how much you possess of "the mind that was in Christ Jesus, who, when possessed of all the glory and felicity of Heaven, emptied himself of it all for you; and for your benefit became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross." Self has by nature wholly occupied your minds. The proper effect of the Gospel is, to root out that hateful quality, and to fill your souls with love both to God and man. Let this, then, serve you as a test whereby to try your state; and assure yourselves, brethren, that a work of grace is no further wrought within you than this great change is accomplished.
2. In selecting our companions and friends.
Paul guards you particularly on this head: "Men will be lovers of their own selves.… from such turn away." So say I, my brethren: "From such turn away." You can get no good from such men; nor can you hope to do any good to them: and your whole fellowship with them will be productive only of pain. As Solomon says, "Make no friendship with an angry man, lest you learn his ways, and get a snare to your soul;" so I would say in reference to a selfish man. He only will be a source of comfort and benefit to you, who is divested of self, and who lives for God, and lays himself out for the good of man. That is an honorable character, worthy to be esteemed; and an useful character, from whom you may hope to derive much benefit; and a blessed character, with whom you may hope to spend a happy eternity. If you find such an one, take him to your bosom: and congratulate yourself, that, in this poor vain world, God has raised up to you such a treasure as this, that may well be dear to you even as your own soul.
Form and Power of Godliness
2 Timothy 3:5. Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
THERE were, even in the Apostolic ages, many awful declensions from piety and sound religion: but in the last days we expect they will prevail to a far greater extent. Even at the present day, a thorough acquaintance with what is called the religious world will bring to our minds many sad characters, who do not indeed fully answer to the description given in the preceding context, but in many respects approximate to it. It is not, however, my intention to take the whole of the character here portrayed; but only the last trait of it, which I have selected for our consideration at this time.
Let me, then,
I. Unfold the character that is here drawn.
They "have a form of godliness."
By "godliness," I understand an entire devotion of the soul to God. This must, of necessity, have forms and services wherein it must display itself: for, circumstanced as we are in the world, it is impossible to serve God without forms. The reading of the Scriptures, the attending on divine ordinances, the observance of the Sabbath, the duties of family worship, and of secret prayer, are all forms, in and by which vital godliness must display itself. Now many have, in these respects, the form of godliness: they live in the external discharge of these duties: they are conscious, that without an observance of these things they could have no credit whatever for true godliness; and therefore they fulfill their duties in these respects; and then flatter themselves that they have performed all that is required of them.
But they deny its power.
As for real delight in God, notwithstanding all their profession of religion, they are strangers to it. Their prayers are a mere service of the lip and knee; their praises are no other than cold, unmeaning acknowledgments; and the whole service of God, in the Church, the family, and the closet, is nothing but "a form," a lamp without oil, a body without the soul. Nor does godliness pervade their souls, so as to produce the mind that was in Christ, or to transform them into God's image. They seem not to think that religion is to operate to such an extent as this; and that, provided they observe the outward duties of religion, the tempers and dispositions of the soul may safely be overlooked. Hence their self-love, their covetousness, and their numberless evil dispositions, retain their full ascendency, and reign without control. In fact, "they have a name to live; but in reality they are dead."
And now let me,
II. Show in what estimation it should be held.
The Apostle says, "From such turn away." To explain this, I will show,
1. In what sense we are not to turn away from such characters.
We are not to turn away from them in contempt. That were highly unfitting us; who, if we differ at all, owe the whole of that difference to the distinguishing grace of God. And it would be most offensive to God, who cannot endure such hateful pride. If we say to any man, "Stand off; I am holier than you;" God will regard us as "a smoke in his nose, a fire that burns all the day"—Nor are we to turn away in indifference, as though we cared not what became of them. We should rather mourn over them, as Paul; and weep over them, as our Lord did over the murderous Jerusalem—Nor should we turn away from them in despair; for God is able to save them; and he will hear prayer in their behalf.
2. In what sense we are to turn away from them.
We are not, on any account, to make them our companions. We should in this respect turn away from them, for their sake, for our own sake, for the Church's sake, and for the world's sake. If we associate with them, we shall make them think well of themselves; when, by a becoming departure from them, we may bring them to a measure of self-diffidence and compunction—If we associate with them, we shall be in danger of drinking into their spirit, and of learning their ways. We shall have our zeal and ardor damped by them; who, instead of rising with us, would soon bring us down to a level with themselves—By associating with them, also, we should lead our weaker brethren to conceive that there is no evil in their ways—And we should justify the world in all their censures of religion, when, for the sake of some ungodly professors, they decry all serious religion, and represent all the servants of God as hypocrites.
1. Those who have not even the form of godliness.
It is a lamentable truth, that the greater part of nominal Christians live altogether "without God in the world." Had they been born Pagans or Mahommedans, they would not, as far as Jehovah is concerned, have differed in any essential particular. Now then, I ask, if they who have a form of godliness may yet be in a state so hateful to God, what must be the condition of those who are destitute even of the form? Can it be that they should be approved of the Lord? They will indeed, and with great confidence too, affirm, that they have no ground to fear: but they awfully deceive their own souls: for to them does that declaration of God belong, in its utmost force, "The wicked shall be turned into Hell, and all the people that forget God." O that they would be wise, and consider their latter end, before it be too late!
2. Those who have the form, but not the power.
To what purpose is it that you "profess to know God, if in works you deny him?" In truth, if you will look into the Scriptures, you will find that real godliness is a far different thing from what you are accustomed to think it. Look at the precepts: do they extend only to forms? Examine the promises; are they limited to forms? See the examples of piety: do they rise no higher than to mere formal services? The whole of God's blessed word declares, that God must "be worshiped in Spirit and in truth;" and that the heart, the whole heart, must be consecrated to his service. Anything short of this is a mere mockery, and a fatal delusion.
3. Those who have both the form and power of godliness.
It is well to combine the two, yet to keep them both in their proper place. We must not elevate either, to the exclusion of the other. As we must not rest in forms, so neither must we rise above them, as though the eminence of our piety superseded the use of them. All external duties, of whatever kind, must be observed: only we must take care that we be filled with the Spirit, in the use of them. Forms are like Jacob's ladder, by which you are to ascend to God, and God will descend to you. But see to it, that your access to God be daily more near, and your enjoyment of him more sweet: see to it, that you show forth daily, with increasing evidence, the efficacy of his grace, and the beauty of his religion. Let your whole spirit and temper evince the power of godliness in your souls; and then not only shall all the saints turn unto you in love, but God himself will embrace you as the objects of his tenderest affection.
A Want of Profiting by the Gospel, Censured
2 Timothy 3:7. Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
FROM what we know of the excellency of the Gospel, we should naturally conclude that it can never produce anything but good. And this is true. But, as the law, notwithstanding it is good, is sometimes, through the corruption of our nature, an occasion of evil, so the Gospel often gives occasion to the corruptions of our hearts to manifest themselves to a very awful extent. Who, for instance, would imagine that persons calling themselves Christians should be obnoxious to the charge brought against them in all the preceding context, and answer in any degree to the character there drawn? Yet is it a melancholy fact, that some did answer to that character, even in the apostolic age; and, at different periods of the Church, multitudes have fully corresponded with the description there given; yes, and not only corresponded with it themselves, but labored also with zeal and industry to infuse into others the same malignant spirit, and taken advantage of those who were less instructed, or more easily wrought upon, to propagate it to the utmost of their power. There is reason for thankfulness, that the Christian Church is not much agitated by such turbulent and unchristian teachers at this time: but still the spirit exists to a considerable extent among some classes of Christians; who, while they are running after every new preacher, exactly answer to the character here given of them, "Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."
To counteract this great evil, I will endeavor to show,
I. What little improvement many make of the Gospel which they hear.
The Gospel, in this age, has acquired a considerable degree of popularity; so that, wherever it is preached, it is attended by multitudes who previously had shown no regard whatever for religion: yes, to such a degree does it interest many, that their whole souls appear to be engaged in an attention to it. Yet of these, not a few may be characterized by the words before us: they are "ever learning," losing no opportunity, whether in public or in private, of gratifying their thirst for spiritual instruction, and "yet never able to come to the knowledge of the truth," either in principle or in practice.
1. In principle.
Of those who indulge a spirit of scepticism, and who make all that they hear an occasion for calling in question the truth of God, it is not my intention to speak. The persons alluded to in my text are rather those who take partial views of the Gospel; insisting on some particular truth, to the exclusion of many others; or espousing some great error, to the utter subversion of the whole Gospel. Such are they who deny the corruption of human nature, the necessity of an atonement, the divinity of our blessed Lord, and the influences of the Holy Spirit. Persons of this description find pleasure in nothing which does not foster their heretical opinions: and to diffuse their principles is as much their labor, as it was the labor of the Pharisees of old; who "compassed sea and land to make one proselyte," whom, by their hostility to the truth, they reduced to a still more abject condition than themselves.
Nor are Antinomian heretics less zealous, or less pernicious, than they. They can hear of nothing, and talk of nothing, but God's decrees; while all the fruits of Christianity upon the spirit and temper are as much overlooked as if they were of no importance whatever to the soul.
But, not to speak of those who magnify any peculiar tenet to the neglect or exclusion of other truths, a great multitude of those who hear the Gospel get only a vague and indistinct view of it; discerning nothing of its transcendent excellency, as displaying the glory of the Divine perfections, or as suiting the necessities of fallen man: so that, amidst all their zeal for the Gospel, they never get their souls duly impressed with it as "the wisdom of God in a mystery," or "the power of God unto salvation." I grant that a truly correct and systematic view of Christianity is not to be expected of those who are altogether illiterate, and whose opportunities of investigating truth are very contracted: but still, the crude notions which many form of it clearly prove that they have never received the Gospel aright; because, if they had really been taught of God, they could not but discern its fundamental truths; since, "what God has hid from the wise and prudent, he does clearly and most intelligibly reveal to babes."
2. In practice.
Truly it is very humiliating to see how little the preached Gospel answers the end for which it is delivered. It is intended to transform men into "the image of their God in righteousness and true holiness," but on how few does it produce this saving change! Many love the preaching of the truth, like Ezekiel's hearers, who heard him with delight, "as one that played well upon a musical instrument," but, like them, they still retain all their former lusts; "their heart goes after their covetousness" and worldly-mindedness as much as ever; and their tempers are as unsubdued as ever. See them year after year; their besetting sins are still their besetting sins, with very little, if any, diminution in their power and ascendency. It is painful to think how many satisfy themselves with embracing the doctrines of Christianity, without experiencing its sanctifying effects. Would to God there were no room for this complaint! but indeed it is so: and there are many professors of religion who are as much under the dominion of unhallowed tempers as if they were utter strangers to divine truth: and, in speaking peace to themselves, they fearfully "deceive their own souls," for, whatever they may think, "their religion is altogether vain."
But there are others, who, though not left under the dominion of any particular sin, are still obnoxious to the censure in my text; because they never attain that knowledge of the truth which would introduce them into the full liberty of the children of God. They have heard and learned of men: but they have never "heard and learned of the Father, as the truth is in Jesus." See what the truth is, as it was revealed by the Lord Jesus, and as exemplified in his life and conversation: such is that which we also ought to receive and experience: and it is a shame to us, if, after having been instructed in the Gospel for months and years, we do not, in some good measure at least, attain unto it. But many, "who, for the time that they have been instructed, ought to have been capable of instructing others, yet need again to be initiated into the very first principles of the oracles of God," and "to be fed with milk, rather than with meat," which their feeble powers are not able to digest.
Let me, then, go on to show,
II. Whence their want of proficiency proceeds.
Many more reasons might be assigned for it than we shall have time to notice. All the different classes which we have mentioned may trace their ignorance to causes in some respect peculiar to the class to which they belong. On the other hand, there are some causes common to them all, which therefore it will be more proper for me to specify.
Men come not to the knowledge of the truth,
1. Because the obstacles to knowledge are not removed from their minds.
The love of this world, and of the things thereof, casts a thick veil over the human mind, and incapacitates it for the reception of divine truth. It is like a film over the eyes, which either distorts objects, or renders the vision of them very indistinct. Our blessed Lord says, "How can you believe who receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that comes of God only?" In the parable of the Sower, the cares and pleasures of life are represented as choking the word, and rendering it unfruitful: and, until the ground has been in a measure cleared from thorns and briers, it is in vain to hope that any instruction can avail for the renovation and salvation of the soul.
2. Because the means of attaining it are only partially used.
Men will hear the Gospel with an almost insatiable avidity: but if you follow them to their own homes, you will not find them meditating upon what they have heard, with an application of it to their own souls; nor praying to God to render it effectual for the ends for which it has been delivered. When they have heard the word, they think they have done their duty: but meditation and prayer are not a whit less necessary for the improvement of the mind, than either written or oral instruction. This is particularly noticed by Solomon, who tells us, that we must add prayer to study; and not only search, but "lift up our voice for understanding," if ever we would attain it: and if we will not use every effort to improve what we have heard, it is no wonder that the instruction we have received fails of conveying any saving benefit to our souls.
3. Because the knowledge acquired is not conscientiously improved.
Men, under the word, are made to see their own faces in a glass: but, having no desire to comply with its requisitions, they soon "forget what manner of persons they are." If they would follow the instruction which they receive, and take it as a light to search the inmost recesses of their souls, and as a touchstone whereby to try their experience before God, what progress would they make in the divine life! How clear would their views become! how eminent their attainments! But they hear not for this end. The Gospel is not contemplated by them in this view. The ordinances are attended by them more for the amusement of their minds than for the edification of their souls. And hence, though they are "ever learning," they never acquire that self-knowledge that shall abase them in the dust, or that knowledge of God that shall assimilate them to his likeness.
1. Those who have not yet attained the knowledge of the truth.
Consider your responsibility for so abusing the privileges you enjoy. Were it an earthly science which you could not dive into or comprehend, you might plead your incapacity to understand the things submitted to you. But no man is too weak to comprehend divine truth, if God "open the eyes of his understanding to understand it." Seek, then, to be taught of God; and you shall not be left in darkness. There are, indeed, two keys of knowledge, which you must obtain; and they are, integrity and contrition. Get but "a honest and good heart," with a soul truly humbled before God; and you shall be "guided into all truth," and "be made wise unto everlasting salvation."
2. Those who think they have acquired it.
Remember, it is not by its clearness, but by its efficacy, that you are to judge of the knowledge you have acquired—Remember, too, that you are still to be "ever learning." Never, in this world, will you have arrived at a full knowledge of the truth: your views of it will be increasing through all eternity. Of its sanctifying efficacy, also, you must have a progressive experience, to the latest hour of your lives. Be careful, then, that you "grow in grace, as well as in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ;" so shall you, before long, "see him as he is, and be like him forever."
Character of Paul
2 Timothy 3:10. You have fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long suffering, charity, patience.
IN every age of the world there have been persons adverse to the truth of God, and actively engaged in frustrating his designs for the salvation of men. In the days of Moses, Jannes and Jambres sought to harden the heart of Pharaoh: and in the apostolic age, many seducers arose to draw away from the faith those who had embraced the Gospel of Christ. Against their influence Paul guards his son Timothy: and that this young minister might be the better able to distinguish them, the Apostle reminds him of "all that he had heard and seen in him."
The word which, in the text, is translated, "you have fully known," is in the margin translated, "you have been a diligent follower of." And from this little diversity of construction, I shall take occasion to propose to you the character of the Apostle, for your investigation, that you may "fully know it;" and for your imitation, that you may "diligently follow it."
I propose it, then,
I. For your investigation.
Take notice, then, what was,
1. His doctrine.
This was uniformly an exhibition of the Lord Jesus Christ, as crucified for the sins of men, and as effecting thereby our reconciliation with God—On this subject he maintained the utmost jealousy; suffering nothing, either in himself or others, to obscure it. When Peter himself had, by undue concessions, endangered the purity of this doctrine, Paul reproved him before the whole Church. And, if an angel from Heaven had attempted to establish any doctrine in opposition to this, he was prepared to denounce him as accursed. All that he preached, either led to this doctrine, or arose out of it; for "he had determined to know nothing but Christ, and him crucified."
2. His spirit.
This was in perfect accordance with the doctrine which he preached. "The whole manner of his life" was regulated by it; and marked a determined "purpose" to live only for the Savior in whom he believed, and to put forth all his powers for the propagation of the Gospel of Christ. In the discharge of this duty he had shown the utmost "fidelity;" concealing nothing that could be profitable to his hearers, but boldly "declaring to them the whole counsel of God." He knew that, "in every place, bonds and afflictions awaited him," but "none of these things could move him," neither counted he his life dear to him, if only he might discharge, to the satisfaction of his own conscience, the high office which had been committed to him. This was his uniform course of life, from the first moment of his conversion: and all who knew him could bear witness to it.
3. His conduct.
His zeal for God was duly blended with love to men. He bore with all, however weak, however ignorant, however perverse, they were: nor could the most cruel treatment divert him from his purpose. In the midst of all the injuries he sustained, he still prosecuted his labors of love with all imaginable "long-suffering, and charity, and patience;" "becoming all things to all men, if by any means he might save some;" and accounting it rather a matter of self-congratulation than of grief, if he should be called to pour forth his blood as a libation upon the sacrifice and service of his people's faith. O that men would study this character, and seek to have it embodied in their own experience! For this end
I will propose it,
II. For your imitation.
Paul himself says, "Be you followers of me, as I am of Christ." And so would I say to you, as in my text, Be diligent followers of him in the above respects.
1. Embrace his principles.
It is observable, that the Apostle himself takes for granted that every true Christian will resemble him in his views of divine truth: for, having spoken of the sufferings which he had been called to endure, he adds, "Yes, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution." "The living godly in Christ Jesus" marks at once "his doctrine and his manner of life." "A life of faith on the Son of God" is that which characterizes every Christian under Heaven. Yet it is not the faith alone which so distinguishes him, but its operation on the heart and life: it is "the living godly in Christ Jesus." The faith and practice must go together. If separated, they are of no value: faith is of no value, if not productive of works; and works are of no value, if not proceeding from faith. I wish this to be clearly and fully understood. In truth, there is not a person in the universe who can act up to this high standard, unless he live under the influence of faith. Nothing but a sense of redeeming love can constrain any man to such an entire surrender of his soul to God. But, on the other hand, no man who truly believes in Christ will ever stop short of it. Be you, therefore, followers of Paul in this respect.
2. Expect his trials.
We are ready to think, that sufferings for righteousness' sake were the portion of the Apostles only, or of the primitive Christians: but they are, and will inevitably be, the portion of all believers; as Paul tells us in the words which we have just cited; "All who will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution." Persons may be ever so wise, and ever so prudent, and ever so blameless in the whole of their conversation; but they never can escape persecution of some kind. They may not, indeed, be called to endure the sufferings inflicted on Paul: through the tender mercy of our God, that measure of persecution is now prevented by the laws, which afford protection to all classes of the community: but hatred, and contempt, and obloquy, will attach to all who resemble our blessed Lord, and to all who tread in the steps of the Apostle Paul. It is in vain for any one to hope that he shall be a follower of Christ without having a cross to bear: for, "if men called the Master of the house Beelzebub, much more will they those of his household." In this respect, therefore, as well as in his religious sentiments and feelings, every one of you must prepare to resemble this bright pattern of all that was great and good.
3. Maintain his conduct.
Imitate his zeal for God: and let it be seen that you live only for God. Let your whole manner of life be consistent. Let your determined purpose be manifest: let it be evident to all, that you have but one wish, one desire. And let nothing under Heaven cause you to turn aside, even for a moment, from the path of duty. "Be steadfast, and immoveable, and always abounding in the work of the Lord." At the same time, imitate his love to man. Whatever treatment you meet with in the world, be long-suffering and loving towards all; and "let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and entire, lacking nothing." In all this, let your conduct be so uniform, that you may appeal to those who have the nearest access to you, and opportunities of observing you at all times, that this is the constant tenor of your way. It is an easy matter to be Christians in public: but, to preserve a perfect consistency in the whole of your deportment in private, requires an unintermitted watchfulness, and a measure of grace that is possessed by few. But, indeed, I must say, that it is by such fruits alone that the goodness of the tree can be discerned. May God enable all of us so to walk, that we may be able to make our appeal, both to God and man, without fear and contradiction; and to the praise of that God who has wrought all our good works within us!
The True Gospel Hated
2 Timothy 3:12. All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
WE are apt to imagine that persecution for righteousness' sake was peculiar to the apostolic age: but Paul, reminding Timothy of the various trials which he himself had endured, tells him, that the Gospel would continue to give offence, wherever it was faithfully preached, or consistently professed; and that "all who would live godly in Christ Jesus should suffer persecution." Now, that we may enter into the true import of these words, and see their full scope, I will show,
I. What is the life which is here described.
The Apostle does not say, "All that will live godly," for then his assertion would not be true. A conformity to the law, under which men live, will by no means give offence to those around them. Heathens, of every class and of every caste, will admire those who are most scrupulously observant of the rites prescribed by their religious system—The Pharisees were held in the highest estimation on account of the self-denying ordinances which they practiced. And papists are canonized for their penances and pilgrimages, and self-imposed austerities. Even among us, an exact attention to outward forms and to moral duties will gain for any man the admiration of all around him. This is not the life which will, in the general, expose us to persecution, whatever it may do under some particular circumstances. The life that will involve us certainly in persecution, is, "the living godly in Christ Jesus;" that is, the depending on him for all the grace whereby to serve our God, and the giving to him the glory of all that we do. This is what the Gospel invariably requires—and this will still give the very same offence which it gave in former days. This it was which so incensed Cain against his brother Abel. Abel offered a burnt-offering as an acknowledgment of his dependence on the sacrifice of Christ, which should, in due time, be offered: and God's attested approbation of that offering stirred up in Cain the murderous purpose to destroy his brother's life. Paul, and all the rest of the Apostles, suffered on the same account—And at this day, wherever that religion is professed and exemplified, the very same hatred prevails against it—Other doctrines cause no divisions: but wherever salvation by faith in the atoning blood of Christ is proclaimed, there is a division among the people; "some saying of the preacher, He is a good man: others saying, Nay, but he deceives the people."
If this be so, it is of importance to show, in reference to this doctrine,
II. Why it gives such universal offence.
1. Because it is so incomprehensible in its nature.
A preacher of Christ crucified, while he calls men to the performance of good works, will maintain most strenuously the impossibility of our being ever justified by them, either in whole or in part. He requires all to seek acceptance with God through faith alone—Now, people in general neither do, nor can, comprehend this. If we are not to be justified by our works in any measure or degree, why need we perform them?—Thus they stumble at that very stumbling-stone which offended the Jews of old, and caused them to reject the salvation which the less moral Gentiles most thankfully accepted.
2. Because it is so humiliating in its requirements.
What! must the most exemplary Pharisee, who has been "touching the righteousness of the law blameless," renounce all his own righteousness, and come down upon the very same ground with publicans and harlots, and "enter in at the strait gate" of repentance and faith, as much as the most abandoned of mankind? Who can endure to hear that, or make up his mind to comply with it? What! after having done so many things, must I seek acceptance solely through the righteousness of another imputed to me? Such views were, in the days of old, "to the Jews a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness," and such will they be judged by all, who are not truly enlightened by the Spirit of God.
3. Because it is so exclusive in its pretensions.
If the Apostle would have suffered circumcision to be retained by the Jews as a joint ground of hope before God, "the offence of the cross would have altogether ceased." Or if he would have suffered the name of Jesus to be enrolled among the gods of Greece and Rome, the Gentiles would have entirely renounced their opposition to him. But he required that the whole world should abandon their various grounds of hope; and trust exclusively in "the Lord Jesus Christ, as their wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." He declared, that there was no way to Heaven but through Christ; and that "if an angel from Heaven should preach any other doctrine than this, he must he accursed." This is the testimony which we also bear; and which every one who receives the Gospel must accede to. And can we wonder that this rigid and immoveable purpose should give offence? Can we wonder, that, when we require every child of man to bow to this doctrine, and inflexibly to adhere to it, even though he were menaced with death for his fidelity—can we wonder, I say, that men should rise up against us, and endeavor to extinguish the light which we set before them? It cannot be but that such authoritative demands should give offence to those who have not obtained grace to comply with them.
Let me then address,
1. Those who are intimidated by the opposition made to them.
"Fear not man, who can only kill the body; but fear Him who can destroy both body and soul in Hell." "If you will not lay down your life for Christ, you cannot be his disciples." We cannot lower those terms. Christ died, under the wrath of God, for you: and it is but a small sacrifice, in comparison, that he requires you to make for him.
2. Those who set themselves against the truth of God.
You can never prevail, in fighting against God: or, if you prevail in any particular instance, you only aggravate so much the more your own guilt and condemnation. It were better for you to have a millstone fastened to your neck, and be cast into the depths of the sea, than that you should offend one of Christ's little ones.
3. Those who are enabled to maintain their steadfastness in the midst of an ungodly world.
Perhaps you have suffered somewhat for the Lord. But have you found any cause to regret it? Have not the consolations of Christ abounded above all your afflictions? You may possibly have yet more to suffer for his sake. But, for your encouragement, he has declared, that, "while he will deny those who deny him, he will admit all who suffer with him to reign with him in glory forever and ever." "Be then faithful unto death; and expect assuredly, at his hands, a crown of life."
The Early Knowledge of Timothy
2 Timothy 3:15. From a child you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise unto salvation, through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
IN seasons of heavy trial it is of great advantage to have had a long acquaintance with the Holy Scriptures and the principles of religion. A novice is apt to be astonished, and to wonder that a change so favorable as that which he has experienced, ("from a brier to a myrtle-tree,") should excite nothing but enmity in those around him. But a person conversant with the word of God, and established with his grace, has counted the cost: he knows what he is to expect: he knows what others have experienced before him; and the very storms which threaten his existence, serve only to confirm him in the truths he has professed. In this view Paul encourages Timothy to hold fast the profession of his faith without wavering, and to "continue in the things he had learned," without being intimidated by persecutors, or deceived by seducers.
From his words we shall consider
I. The early knowledge of Timothy.
He was acquainted with the Holy Scriptures.
By "the Holy Scriptures" we must understand, not merely the words, but the doctrines, of Scripture. Doubtless Timothy was acquainted with our fall in Adam, and the consequent depravity of our nature. He knew also the true scope of all the sacrifices as pointing to that Lamb of God who was to take away the sin of the whole world. Nor could he be ignorant of the necessity of divine influences, in order to a renovation of our hearts, and a restoration of the soul to the Divine image.
But it was not a theoretical knowledge even of these things which would have satisfied the mind of the Apostle: it must have been a practical and experimental knowledge of them. He must have felt and bewailed the plague of his own heart: he must have relied on Jesus as his only hope: he must have been renewed in the spirit of his mind by the power of the Holy Spirit: in short, he must have been "a new creature in Christ Jesus," or else the Apostle would never have thought his knowledge a proper ground of congratulation.
These he knew from a child.
It is generally thought that children are incapable of understanding the mysterious truths of the Gospel. We readily acknowledge that these truths exceed the capacity, not of children only, but of the wisest philosopher; for "the natural man cannot know them, because they are spiritually discerned." But God can give a spiritual discernment to children, as well as to adults; and, supposing this to be given, there is nothing in the Gospel which a child may not understand as well as an adult. Children may have their affections exercised on things proper to call them forth. If God discover to them that they are sinners, and obnoxious to his wrath, they may fear his displeasure: if he show them that he has provided salvation for them in Christ Jesus, they may hope in his mercy: if he reveal his pardoning love to their souls, they may rejoice in his salvation. The difficulty lies, not in feeling suitable emotions, but in having a practical conviction of those truths which are calculated to excite them. This practical conviction none but God can give; and he is as able to give it to one as to another. Indeed God does prefer those who are babes, in knowledge at least, and sometimes also in years; for David says, that "God had ordained strength, and perfected praise out of the mouth of babes and sucklings;" and our blessed Lord made it a matter of joy and thanksgiving, that his heavenly Father had "hid divine things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes." Do we desire instances of early conversion? Josiah sought the Lord at eight years of age. Samuel was devoted to him at a still earlier period of life. John the Baptist was filled with the Holy Spirit even from his mother's womb. But, if there were no other instance upon record, it would be sufficient that we are told, that Timothy knew the Holy Scriptures "from a child."
We shall, with the Apostle, congratulate Timothy, if we consider,
II. The excellency of that knowledge.
It was "able to make him wise."
Wisdom is that which is most of all coveted, and for the attainment of which no expense or trouble are accounted too great. Now the wisdom contained in the inspired volume infinitely surpasses all that can be collected from other books. It shows us what we were in our original formation, and what we now are. It shows us wherein the chief good consists, and how we may attain it. It shows us everything, whether good or evil, in its true light, and enables us to form the very same judgment respecting it that God himself does. It teaches us how to fill every station and relation of life to the greatest possible advantage. It even draws aside the veil of Heaven itself, and exhibits to us God in all his glorious perfections. It reveals to us the three persons of the Godhead, co-operating in the work of man's salvation, and executing distinct offices for our eternal good. What is all the boasted wisdom of philosophers, when compared with this?
It was able to make him "wise unto salvation."
All wisdom that stops short of this is only splendid folly. How vain will the wisdom of philosophers or statesmen appear, when once we are entered into the eternal world! Nothing will then be of any value, but that which led us to the enjoyment of God, and to a fitness for glory. Then the excellency of Scripture knowledge will appear in all its brightness.
But it must be inquired, How is it that the Scripture effects this? Is there anything meritorious in the knowledge of its truths; or anything which by its own power can save the soul? The text informs us respecting these things, and points out the precise way in which the Scriptures make us wise unto salvation. Christ is the only Savior of sinful man. His obedience unto death is the only ground of our hope.
But how are we to be interested in him? There is but one way; and that is, by faith. "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life."
From hence then it may be seen how the Scriptures make us wise unto salvation. They reveal Christ to us as the Savior of the world. They commend him to us under every image that can convey an idea of his suitableness to our wants, and his sufficiency for our necessities. They hold forth the promises of God to those who believe in Christ; and encourage us by every possible argument to rely upon him. In this manner they work faith in our hearts: and by that faith we become interested in all that Christ has done and suffered for us.
Thus, in ascribing our salvation to the knowledge of the Scriptures, we do not derogate from the honor of Christ; since it is only by revealing his work and offices to us, and by leading us to depend upon him, that they become effectual for this blessed end. But at the same time we put an honor on the Scriptures, to which no other book has the smallest claim. Other books may be channels for conveying divine knowledge; but the Bible alone is the fountain from which it flows. The knowledge therefore of the Bible is of supreme excellence; and the earliest possible attainment of it is of unrivaled importance.
This being a very instructive record, I propose to show,
III. The instruction which his attainment of it conveys to us.
Surely it affords us matter
1. For inquiry respecting ourselves.
I ask not, whether the same thing can be affirmed of you, as having taken place from your early childhood; but whether it is true concerning you at this moment? Do you know the Holy Scriptures, and the great leading doctrines contained in them? Do you know them practically and experimentally, so as really to feel your lost and undone state—and to be fleeing to Christ as your only refuge—and to be devoting yourselves to him as his redeemed people? Have you in relation to these things the very mind of God, bringing you into a conformity to his blessed will?—Possess what you may, you have not attained to true wisdom, if you possess not this state of mind. No other wisdom than this will avail to your salvation: and, if you lack this, you will, to all eternity, lament and bewail your folly. I entreat you then to examine carefully whether you be "living a life of faith in the Son of God, who has loved you and given himself for you?" Is your daily walk with God such, that the Apostle Paul would pronounce with confidence respecting you the testimony which he thus confidently bare to his beloved Timothy? Dear brethren, I beseech you, "prove your own selves;" and pray God to set his seal to the truth of this change as wrought in you, and as exemplified in the whole of your life and conversation!
2. For direction respecting others.
Parents, does not this record speak forcibly to you? Here you have an evidence that children are capable of receiving all the blessings of salvation, supposing they be taught by you, and taught of God also. Without the Divine blessing, even Paul might plant, and Apollos water, in vain: but the labors of a Lois and an Eunice shall not be lost, if God be pleased to accompany them with his Holy Spirit to the soul. Remember, a responsibility attaches to you for their souls, similar to that which belongs to your minister in reference to your souls. I pray God, that your children may not have to reproach you in the day of judgment, and to trace it to you, that they were left to perish for lack of knowledge.
And, young people, tell me whether you do not envy Timothy the distinction here given him? Have you not in your own consciences a conviction, that his was true wisdom, and that in attaining the knowledge of salvation through a crucified Redeemer, you best answer the end of your being. Lose not then the present opportunity, before the cares and pleasures of life have hardened your hearts, and seared your consciences as with a hot iron.
To people of every age this record speaks forcibly, and says, Labor by all possible means to convey to those around you this knowledge which proved so great a blessing to this happy youth.
The Excellency of the Scriptures
2 Timothy 3:16–17. 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.
LITTLE do men in general think how much they are indebted to God for the possession of the Holy Scriptures. This was the exclusive privilege of the Jewish nation for fifteen hundred years: and it elevated them above all other people upon the face of the earth. Their chief advantage, as Paul tells us, was, that "unto them were committed the Oracles of God." In the knowledge of these Timothy was early instructed; and "by these he was made wise unto salvation." Doubtless the way of salvation was not so clearly marked in them, as in the Christian Scriptures: but still, to any one who reads the writings of Moses and the Prophets with humility and prayer, there was every needful instruction both in relation to faith and practice. The whole Mosaic dispensation taught him this great lesson, that he must be saved by a vicarious sacrifice; and all the prophets directed his views to that great sacrifice, which should, in due time, be offered by our Lord Jesus Christ. It is of these Scriptures that Paul speaks in my text; and in the commendation which he bestows upon them, we see,
I. Their true origin.
The Scriptures of the Old Testament were "given by inspiration of God."
Of this there is abundant evidence, in the very nature of the things which they contain. What could Moses have known about the creation of the world, of the fall of man, and of the facts relating to the deluge, if they had not been revealed to him by God? What could he have known of the nature and perfections of God; or of the means by which fallen man was to be restored to his favor; or of the Prophet who should in due time be raised up from among his brethren, to be, like him. a Mediator, a Lawgiver, a Redeemer, a Governor? How could he have ever given so perfect a code of laws as those contained in the Ten Commandments; and so complicated a system of ceremonial laws, that should shadow forth, in every particular, the work and offices of the Messiah, together with the privileges and enjoyments of his redeemed people? Or if we suppose a finite creature endued with wisdom sufficient for such a work (which yet cannot for a moment be imagined), it cannot he conceived that he should impose his own inventions on the world as a revelation from God: for if he was a good man, he would never have attempted so impiously to deceive the world; nor, if he was wicked enough to execute so criminal a project, would he ever have given so holy a law, which condemned even the smallest approach to such impiety, and gave the perpetrator of it no hope of ever escaping the wrathful indignation of Almighty God. The miracles wrought by him are a farther confirmation of his divine mission, and of his being inspired of God to declare all which has been transmitted to us in his writings.
Respecting the prophets also, we may say, that their inspiration of God can admit of no doubt; since it was not possible for them, if uninspired, so minutely and harmoniously to foretell so many events, which all came to pass agreeably to their predictions.
The same may be said in reference to the writers of the New Testament.
While the Apostles and Evangelists always refer to the Old Testament as inspired of God, and declare, with one consent, that the writers of it delivered not mere sentiments of their own, but "spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit," they profess to be themselves inspired by that same Spirit, in all that they declare; and they wrought miracles without number in confirmation of their word. In what they wrote indeed, they expressed themselves, each in his own peculiar style, as any other writers would have done: but in the matter of what they wrote, they were inspired of God; and in the manner of expressing it they were preserved by that same Spirit from any error or mistake. So that of the whole Scriptures, both of the Old and New Testament, we may affirm, that God is the Author of them, and that every part of them has been "given by inspiration from him."
The Apostle proceeds to declare,
II. Their primary use.
This is expressed in four different terms; which yet may properly be comprehended in two. The Scriptures are profitable,
1. For the establishment of sound doctrine.
They declare all that is needful for us to know: and they lay down every "doctrine" of our holy religion with the utmost precision. At the same time, they enable us to "reprove," or, as the word imports, to refute, by the most convincing mode of argumentation, every error, which ignorant or conceited men may labor to maintain. There is such a perfect unity in the system of revelation, that you cannot overthrow one part, without overturning the whole. Let the divinity of our Lord and Savior be denied, and you entirely destroy the doctrine of the atonement also. Let the influences of the Holy Spirit be denied, and the transformation of the soul into the Divine image must fall with it. Let the merit of good works be maintained, and the whole covenant of grace is annihilated. There are indeed matters of less moment, which are less clearly revealed, and respecting which persons of equal piety may differ: but in everything which is of fundamental importance, we find in the Scriptures the most abundant means of discovering truth, and of refuting error. To them we must on all occasions make our appeal, and by their testimony we must abide.
2. For the securing of a holy practice.
Innumerable evils obtain in the world: but every one of them is condemned in the inspired volume; while, at the same time, the ways of true piety are pointed out with clearness to all who desire to walk in them. There is not so much as a secret evil of the heart which does not find "correction" there, nor any attainment of true righteousness in relation to which we do not find the most explicit "instruction." The works of the flesh, and the fruits of the Spirit, are set in contrast with each other, and are portrayed with such exactness, that there is no room left for ignorance to any one who will search the Scriptures, nor for mistake to any one that is truly upright before God.
From these immediate uses we may easily discern,
III. Their ultimate design.
To render men "perfect," is the great object of God, in all that he has revealed: and this the Scriptures are admirably calculated to effect; since they leave nothing wanting, either to ministers or others,
1. For their instruction.
We cannot conceive of any good work which a person instructed out of the Holy Scriptures is not fitted to perform. Take him as "a man of God," discharging the ministerial office: he may learn from the Scriptures how to demean himself in the Church of God so wisely and so profitably, that nothing shall be wanting to the edification of his flock. Or, take him as a private individual: take him in his secret walk with God: What needs he more than is there contained? What can any man add to the directions there given, or to the examples that are there set before us? or what further light can any creature in the universe desire? Take him in his conduct towards his fellow-creatures: What duty is there which is undefined? Let a person occupy any station, or sustain any relation of life, husband or wife, parent or child, master or servant, magistrate or subject, he will equally find such directions as shall leave him at no loss how to please God, or to approve himself to men.
2. For their encouragement.
There is not a motive capable of influencing the human mind which is not there suggested and enforced. Not only are the tremendous sanctions of Heaven and Hell set forth in order to work upon our hopes and fears, but all the wonders of redeeming love are there displayed in such majesty and splendor, that no person irradiated with their light can want any thing to increase their constraining influence. Besides, the promises of God contained in this blessed book are so rich, so free, so full, that nothing can be added to them: nor can a man be in any circumstances whatever, wherein suitable provision is not made for his encouragement and support; so that he is not only "furnished for every good work," but assured of success in all that he attempts to execute: if he be called to act, he is "able to do all things through Christ who strengthens him;" or, if he be called to suffer, he is made "more than conqueror through Him who loved him."
Such then being the excellency of the Holy Scriptures, let every one of you set himself to discharge his duties in relation to them.
1. Refer everything to them as your standard.
Rest not in the opinions of men, whoever those men may be: but bring everything to the law and to the testimony: for, whoever they be, if they speak not according to this word, there is no light in them. You cannot but know, that, both in relation to faith and practice, the most grievous errors abound. Bring therefore your sentiments and your conduct to this test. See whether your views of yourself, and of Christ, agree with those which the Scriptures exhibit; and see whether your life, spirit, and conduct, be such as those of the Apostles were. I charge you, before God, to try yourselves by this touchstone. It is not a superficial view of these matters that will suffice. You may easily deceive yourselves; but you can never deceive God: and it is not by any standard of yours that he will try you, but by the standard of his own word. Oh! search and try your ways: "examine yourselves, whether you be in the faith: prove your own selves," so shall you have the testimony of a good conscience now, and attain acceptance with God in the eternal world.
2. Consult them in all things as your guide.
Difficulties will often arise; and if you go to man for counsel, you will most generally be led astray; since none but those who have imbibed the spirit of the Scriptures themselves, can declare the sublime principles which they inculcate. Study then the Holy Scriptures from day to day, and that too with a direct view to your conduct; so that on any emergency you may have readily occurring to your mind such passages as are fitted to regulate your judgment, and to direct your paths. "Instructed by them, you will be wiser than your teachers," and will be enabled to "walk wisely before God in a perfect way."
3. Beg of God, who has revealed them to the world, to reveal them also in your heart.
Plain as the Scriptures are, they are yet "a sealed book" to all whose eyes have not been enlightened by the Spirit of God. The natural man, how learned soever he may be, cannot enter into their spiritual import, because he has not a spiritual discernment. The Apostles themselves, after all the instruction which they had received, both in public and private, from their Divine Master for above three years, yet needed to have "their understandings opened by him, that they might understand the Scriptures." So do you need the teachings of God's Spirit, without which you will be in darkness to the latest hour of your lives. Pray then to him, as David did; "Open you my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law!" Then shall you "be guided into all truth;" and find the Scriptures fully adequate to all the gracious ends for which they have been revealed.
Charge to Ministers and People
2 Timothy 4:1, 2. I charge you therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom; preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long-suffering and doctrine.
RELIGION is a matter of far greater importance than men generally imagine. The appointment of an order of men on purpose to instruct mankind in the knowledge of it, and by all possible means to advance it in the world, is itself a proof, that, in God's estimation, it is indispensably necessary for the happiness of man. In truth, there is nothing else that is of any importance in comparison of it. How Paul labored to diffuse it, is well known. And here we see how earnestly he inculcated on others the duty of laboring to the utmost to excite an attention to it, throughout all classes of the community. A more solemn charge can scarcely be conceived than that which he here gives to Timothy. The age of this pious youth might render him too diffident and timid in the discharge of his ministerial office: and therefore, in this epistle, Paul again gives him the solemn charge which he had repeatedly given in his former epistle, to acquit himself to that God who had sent him, and to that Savior who would judge him in the last day.
In discoursing on the words before us, I shall consider,
I. The charge given.
"The word" is that which every minister must "preach." He is not at liberty to amuse the people with the fancies and conceits of men, but must declare simply the mind and will of God. He is sent of God for that very end. He is an ambassador from God to man, authorized to declare on. what terms God will be reconciled to his rebellious subjects. And this ministry he is to discharge,
1. With assiduity.
Day and night should he labor in his vocation, with all diligence. The priests under the law had their appointed seasons for sacrifice: but, for the ministration of the Gospel, and the advancement of the interests of the Redeemer's kingdom, no time should be deemed unseasonable. A servant of God should never lose sight of the object which he is commissioned to promote. Whether in public or in private, whether on the Sabbath or other days, whether early or late, whether in a season of peace or of the bitterest persecution, he should be alike active, and alike intent on fulfilling the will of his Divine Master. He should "be instant in season, out of season."
2. With fidelity.
In his discourse, he should adapt himself to the necessities of men, and "change his voice towards them" as occasion may require. If there be errors in the Church, he must "reprove" them, and establish the truth in opposition to them. If there be any sins committed, he must "rebuke" them; and, if need be, with sharpness and severity too, "that the name of God and his doctrine be not blasphemed." If there be any discouraged by reason of the difficulty of their way, he must exhort and comfort them; according to that injunction of the prophet, "Strengthen you the weak hands, and confirm the feeble knees; and say to them that are of a fearful heart, Fear not; your God will come and save you." He is not to fear the face of man; but to address all, without respect of persons; and to declare to them the truth, "whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear."
3. With perseverance.
He may labor long, and see but little fruit of his labor: but, "like the gardener, he must wait with patience for the early and the latter rain." He must be content to give "line upon line, precept upon precept, here a little and there a little." And if, in return for all his kindness, he meet with nothing but reproach and persecution, he must still persist in using his best efforts, if by any means he may at last be made useful even to one. Confident that his "doctrine" is right, he must labor to inculcate it on all; and leave to God the issue, whether it be to blind and harden men, or to convert and save their souls.
All this is the bounden duty of a minister: and of his labors in it he must give account to "the Judge of quick and dead, in the great day of his appearing."
But, that we may adapt the subject more to the edification of all, let us consider,
II. The charge implied.
It is evident, that, if such be the duties of those who preach, there must be corresponding duties attaching to those who hear. On these, therefore, the charge enjoins,
1. A due improvement of the ministry.
If we are to "preach the word," you, my brethren, are to hear it: and to hear it too, "not as the word of man, but as the word of God," and as the word of God to your souls.
Nor are you ever to become remiss in your attention to it. It should "be daily your delight," and "more to you than your necessary food." At all times, and under all circumstances, you should look to it, as your sure directory, and your never-failing support.
Whether read in your secret chamber, or preached to you in the public assembly, your submission to it should be deep and unreserved. Every sentiment of your heart should be regulated by it; every lust should be mortified in obedience to it; and every duty performed in accordance with it. You must, in particular, guard against itching ears and a rebellious heart; neither affecting novelty on the one hand, nor quarreling with old-established truths on the other.
Nor should you ever be "weary in well-doing." Whatever it may cost you to conform to God's blessed word, it must be done: nor should you ever rest, until your whole souls be cast into the very mold of the Gospel.
2. A diligent attention to your own personal concerns.
If ministers have their duties, so have you also yours, to which you are bound to pay all possible attention. Though you minister not in public, you should be as priests in your own houses, and perform towards your respective families all that the most faithful minister attempts for you.
But, supposing that you have none to whom you owe these friendly offices, you must at least watch over your own souls, and with all diligence and fidelity endeavor to bring them into subjection to the commands of God. You must bear in mind your responsibility to God for your every act, and word, and thought; and must so walk before your Lord and Savior, that you may stand with boldness and confidence before him in the great day of his appearing.
In conclusion, let me bring the "charge" more directly to your hearts and consciences.
Almighty God is here present with us, and has heard every word that has been spoken to you. The Lord Jesus Christ, too, is present with us; and records in the book of his remembrance every word that is delivered in his name. And soon will he descend from Heaven, and summon the universe to his tribunal. Then will his kingdom be complete; and every member of it, from the first to the last, shall stand before him. Now, as in the immediate presence both of the Father and of the Son, I speak unto you; and in their sacred name I charge you all. You shall all, before long, stand at the judgment-seat of Christ, and "give an account of yourselves to God;" and receive at his hands according to what you have done in the body, whether it be good or evil. It becomes YOU, then, to "receive with meekness every word" that is delivered, as it becomes me also to "speak even as the oracles of God." The Lord grant that I may so speak, and you do, as those who shall be judged by God's perfect law; and that both the one and the other of us may so approve ourselves to Christ, as "not to be ashamed before him at his coming."
A Christian's Dying Reflections
2 Timothy 4:7, 8. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
CHRISTIANITY adapts its comforts to every part of our existence; but its influence is peculiarly visible at the close. Paul, when expecting death, was not without the most comfortable reflections,
I. In his review of the past.
He had had different views of life from what are generally entertained.
Many think they have little to do but to consult their own pleasure; but Paul had judged, that he had many important duties to fulfill.
He had devoted himself to the great ends of life.
He had maintained a warfare against the world, the flesh, and the devil: he had run his race with indefatigable zeal and ardor: he had kept the faith with undaunted courage and constancy: he had disregarded life itself when it stood in competition with his duty.
Hence the approach of death was pleasant.
He enjoyed the testimony of a good conscience: he could adopt the language of his Lord and Master—he was a prisoner without repining, or wishing to escape: he was condemned, and could wait with delight for the tyrant's stroke.
In consequence of this, he was happy also,
II. In the prospect of what was to come.
He had long enjoyed the earnest of eternal blessings. He looked forward therefore now to the full possession of them.
A crown of righteousness means a most exalted state of holiness and happiness in Heaven; nor did he doubt but that such a reward was laid up for him.
He did not however expect it on account of any merit in himself.
He speaks of it indeed as bestowed in a way of "righteous" retribution; but he expected it wholly as the "gift" of God through Christ.
Nor did he consider it as a gift peculiar to himself as an Apostle.
The "longing for Christ's second coming" is a feeling common to all Christians. For them also is this crown of righteousness reserved.
1. How does the Apostle's experience condemn the world at large.
The generality are strangers to spiritual consolations: but there is no true religion where they are not experienced. Let all consider what would be their reflections, and prospects, if they were now dying: Let all live the life of the righteous, if they would die his death.
2. How amply does God reward his faithful servants!
Poor and imperfect are the best services that they can render: yet how different is their state from that of others, both in and after death! Let all then devote themselves entirely to God.
Apostasy of Demas
2 Timothy 4:10. Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world.
TO have our minds well established with principles, is doubtless very desirable: but in matters which are confessedly beyond the comprehension of man, we should be modest and diffident in drawing conclusions from them, lest, through an excessive zeal for one principle, we subvert others which are not less true or less important. An inattention to this rule has been productive of incalculable injury to the Church of Christ: for persons giving themselves up, as it were, to some particular sentiment, have wrested the Scriptures to make every part of them speak the same language; and have indulged in most acrimonious feelings against all who did not accord with their views. But we should remember, that there are in revelation, as in all the other works of God, depths which we cannot fathom; and that our true wisdom is, not so much to be making the Scriptures a theater whereon to display our controversial skill, as to deduce from them the great practical lessons which they were intended to convey. Were we, for instance, to take occasion from the passage before us to argue about the decrees of God, and the final perseverance of the saints, we might dispute well, but it would be to little profit! but, if we enter upon the subject with fear and trembling, and with a view to our own spiritual advantage, we shall find it replete with the most valuable instruction to our souls.
Let us consider then,
I. The fact here recorded.
A more melancholy fact is scarcely to be found in all the sacred records. Let us notice,
1. The fact itself.
Demas was a man of great eminence in the Church of Christ. Paul, in the salutations which usually close his epistles, twice mentions him in immediate connection with Luke; "Salute Lucas and Demas." In one of these places he calls Demas one of his fellow-laborers in the work of the Gospel: in the other, after having mentioned Demas with honor, he gives to another minister, Archippus, a most solemn warning, on account of the lukewarmness which he had manifested in the discharge of his ministry: "Say to Archippus, Take heed to the ministry which you have received in the Lord, that you fulfill it." From hence then we conclude, that he saw no occasion for such an admonition in the case of Demas. Yet behold, we find at last, that "Demas had forsaken him," and gone to a great distance from him, and altogether abandoned the work in which he had been engaged. Had we been told, that this servant of Christ had erred in some particular, or even that he had declined in zeal for his Master's cause, we should not have been so much surprised; because we are aware that the greatest and best of men are but weak, and that there are changes in their spiritual, as well as their corporeal, health: but, when we are informed that he forsook the Apostle, forsook him too in his greatest extremity, when by reason of his imprisonment and approaching martyrdom he needed all possible support; and that, in forsaking the Apostle, he forsook his Lord and Master also; we are confounded, almost as the Philistines were, when they saw their champion dead upon the field.
Seeing the fact, we are eager to inquire into,
2. The occasion of it.
Whence could this proceed? To what shall we trace an event so calamitous, so unforeseen? We are not left in doubt respecting it: the Apostle, at the same time that he announces the fact, declares the reason of it: "Demas has forsaken me, having loved this present world." Alas! alas! What did he find in this world worthy of his affections? Had he never known anything of spiritual and eternal objects, we might account for his attachment to the things of time and sense: but we are amazed, that, after having once tasted of living waters, he could ever afterwards find satisfaction in the polluted streams of this world.
But, supposing him to love this present world; is there anything in that to draw him from Christ, and to make him cast off all concern for his eternal interests? Yes: the love of God and of the world are incompatible with each other; insomuch that, "if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him." Light and darkness are not more opposed to each other than are the things of this world, and the things of God. "The lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life," what have they to do with heavenly-mindedness? "The person who lives in pleasure, is dead while he lives," "the cares and indulgences of this world choke the good seed, and render it unfruitful," and the seeking honor from men, instead of seeking it from God only, is absolutely incompatible with a saving faith. The cross of Christ, if duly valued, would crucify us unto the world, and the world to us.
Here then we see whence this deplorable evil proceeded. Demas had yielded to a concern about his carnal ease and interests. This gradually weakened his anxiety about his spiritual and eternal welfare. Then he became remiss in secret duties: then his strength to resist temptation declined: then his natural corruptions regained their former ascendant over him: then the Spirit of God, being grieved, and quenched, left him to himself: then he became the sport of temptation, and the prey of Satan: and then his abandonment of Christ and of his Gospel followed of course.
While we mourn over this unhappy man, and lament his apostasy, let us proceed to consider,
II. The instruction to be derived from it.
Surely we may learn from it.
1. That whatever attainments any man has made, it becomes him not to be too confident about the issue of his spiritual warfare.
If we are upright before God, we need not give way to distressing fears: they are dishonorable to God, and unprofitable to ourselves. But at the same time we should guard against a presumptuous confidence: for no man knows what a day may bring forth. David, previous to his fall, if told what sins he would commit, might have replied with Hazael, "Is your servant a dog, that he should do such things?" And Peter, so far from thinking it possible that he should ever deny his Lord, was confident that nothing could ever shake his constancy. So, if Demas, when, in his better state, had been told in what it might end, he would have thought it absolutely impossible that he could ever so "make shipwreck of his faith." Shall we then, after seeing the failure of such men presume to say, "My mountain stands strong, I shall not be moved?" Let us never forget, that if God withdraw his hand from us for one moment, we shall fall and perish: and let our prayer to him therefore be continually, "Hold you me up, and I shall be safe." To every man among you, though he were as eminent as Paul himself, I would say, "Be not high-minded, but fear." "Let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall."
2. That we must watch with all carefulness against the first beginnings of spiritual decay.
Had Demas attended to the first encroachments of a worldly spirit, and resisted them as he ought, he had never been left to final apostasy. But the first breach being neglected, an inundation ensued; and the leak being disregarded, his vessel sank. Let me then put you all upon your guard against a decay in your spiritual affections, and an attempt to serve God with a divided heart. From the moment that you embrace the truth, and "put your hand to the Gospel plough, you must not so much as look back;" you must "forget all that is behind, and press forward to that which is before." O, "remember Lot's wife." Her sin might be thought small: but it was not so in the estimation of her God: and she is made a monument to all future generations. Be "jealous over yourselves with a godly jealousy;" and to the latest hour of your lives adopt the habit of Paul, who "kept under his body, and brought it into subjection, lest, after having preached to others, he himself should be a cast-away."
3. That, if we have unhappily forsaken the Lord, the door of mercy is not yet closed against us.
Of Demas we know no more than what is here spoken. But of Mark, who is also called John, and who was a companion of Paul and Barnabas in their travels, we do know. He, like Demas, forsook those holy men in a time of danger, and "went no more with them to the work." But God in mercy granted him repentance unto life; so that he not only obtained mercy of the Lord, but became afterwards profitable even to Paul himself in the discharge of his apostolic office. Let not any one therefore despair. Let it be remembered, that as long as we are in the body, God addresses us in these gracious words, "Return, you backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings, and love you freely." Be persuaded then to return to him without delay: for if you return not, "it would have been better for you never to have known the way of righteousness, than, after having known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered to your." But, if you return with penitential sorrow, then shall your Father's arms be open to receive you, and every member of his family give thanks to him in your behalf.