In strong contrast with that desertion of the apostle which had overspread the saints of proconsular Asia is the call to Timothy with which chapter 2 opens.
"Thou therefore, my child, be strengthened in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things which thou hast heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men, such as shall be able to teach others also" (vers. 1, 2).
There only is the source of all real strengthening of the soul from God - "the grace that is in Christ Jesus." The apostle's presence and teaching wrought invaluably for the blessing of saints; but he could tell the dear Philippians, "even as ye always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Php_2:12). At all events, whatever might disappear of the highest authorities or of the lower dependent on their appointment, God was there abidingly to work in the saints both to wit and to work according to, or for, His good pleasure. And as the saints in Philippi give us the proof of the power of the grace in Christ to keep and strengthen to all obedience, so the turning away from him that called them in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel which is not another found its sad but sure warning in the Galatians. They were equally as the Philippians the fruit of the apostle's labour, and in spite of the infirmity in which Paul at the first preached to them, no small trial to him or them, instead of slighting or spurning they received him as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus. Now so weakened were they by the legal zeal of those who desired to shut them out from the apostle that he needed to ask, if he, for whom they would have plucked out if possible their own eyes and given them to him, - if he was become their enemy in speaking the truth to them. It is good, he adds gravely, to be zealously sought in a good thing at all times, and not only when I am present with you (Gal_4:13-18).
This then is the secret at all times and under every change of circumstance; but it is most appropriately urged on a confidential fellow-labourer of timid character and not of the highest rank, when the apostle had in full view the ruin of the church's testimony and his own speedy departure. None need wonder at the emphatic terms in which he exhorts his child to draw on the rich and ever-flowing stream. Faith in the grace of Christ alone drinks freely and has within that living fountain springing up to eternal life; faith in Him, Who is now glorified, alone has rivers of living water flowing out from within. Whatever the want, His fulness is the same, undiminished, accessible, and free; whatever the danger, He has overcome the world and the devil, He Who suffered for us, yea, for our sins once for all; and He knows all and has all power and authority Who hears our every appeal and loves ourselves unchangingly. Timothy needed this grace to strengthen him. It is revealed to us and as true for us who need it no less in our place. It is equally open to us and sure for us. Oh, that we may look to Him confidingly in our wants for ourselves and for others!
But there is more than encouraging ourselves in the Lord when distress abounds and difficulties press and dangers impend or affright. If the truth in Christ is needed to deal with and quicken dead souls, no less is it requisite and valid for the saints. Here it isa question of forming and furnishing those who are to instruct others.
We must distinguish the uses of divine revelation. The word of God is the standard of truth: nothing else is or can be such a test, and in its wondrous fulness, not one word of which is in vain, there is the special touchstone of Jesus Christ come in the flesh, Whom the Holy Spirit always leads a true witness to confess, as the spirit of error ever shirks or denies. But in a general way we may say that the apostolic deposit puts faith or unbelief to the proof. A Jew now would own perhaps sincerely all the ancient oracles called the Old Testament. Is he therefore a believer? Assuredly not, because he does not hear, he rejects, the apostles (1Jn_4:6). Ye are of God, says the beloved disciple to the little children, the actual family of faith, and have overcome the many false prophets that are gone out into the world or the evil spirit animating each: because greater is He that is in you than he that is in the world. They are of the world: therefore speak they [as] of the world, and the world heareth them. But this does not finish what he had to say and they to weigh and hold fast: We are of God; not "ye" only as born of Him, being begotten by the word of truth; but we as His inspired witnesses in communicating that truth which beyond all tests souls since the rejection of Christ. He that knoweth God heareth us; he that is not of God heareth us not. Hereby we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
Here however it is the means of communicating the truth rather than the word acting or employed as its standard. As it is a question of edifying, there is no call for such trenchant and solemn appeal. Scripture is no doubt the fullest, most exact, and absolutely reliable means of conveying the mind of God; but His grace uses many other things from the nursery to the dying bed. Among these sound, competent, gracious and intelligent ministry has a capital place. And the apostle's present charge to his beloved associate is really with the view of providing for efficient service in this kind. No man on earth, we may presume, had enjoyed so largely as Timothy the privilege of hearing the greatest of the apostles. Here he is admonished to bear in mind that what he had received was not for himself only but for others, and in order that the best results should be attained by grace through such as had capacity to teach faithfully. In ministry or service of the word it is only fanaticism, not faith, to deny the importance of competency; as we hear the Lord in the parable of His own dealing with His servants, giving talents, sovereignly indeed (to one five, to another two, to another one), yet to each according to his several ability (Mat_25:15). It is not that ability is gift, nor that the talents (His goods) are to be confounded, as in popular parlance and even in vain-glorious theology, with the several ability of each servant. Not only does every scripture that treats of the theme speak of "gifts" as wholly differing in source and character from any one's ability, but even in the parable, which learned ignorance regards as abounding in loose drapery, they are distinguished in the clearest way.
We have also to take note of another prevalent misconception of this verse. By many excellent and erudite persons the apostle is supposed here to lay on Timothy the responsibility of ordaining to ecclesiastical office. Now of this there is absolutely nothing said. 1Ti_3:1-7 does present the qualities requisite for an overseer, or bishop; and undoubtedly the bishop must be apt to teach (διδακτικός,though not necessarily a διδασκαλός or teacher). But ruling was characteristically their duty; and so it is said in 1Ti_5:17, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour, especially those that labour in the word and teaching." The fallacy is that others might and did not teach who were not elders; which is at direct issue with the facts, words, and principles of the New Testament on this head. Not an expression in our verse 2 enunciates eldership or implies it. The full meaning of the whole and of every part is satisfied by not going beyond faithful men instructed by Timothy, as the apostle directs, so that they might be competent to teach others also.
Let us weigh a little the nice phraseology of the apostle that we may the better appreciate its wisdom as well as its consistency with the truth revealed elsewhere. The apostle had kept back nothing that was profitable from so confidential a companion. He had nearly accomplished his own course and the ministry which he received from the Lord Jesus to testify the gospel of the grace of God. He shrank not from declaring to others not so near nor so honoured as Timothy the whole counsel of God. So here the things which Timothy had heard from him among many witnesses, these he was to commit to faithful men. As the matter testified was not done in a corner, so the apostle had openly brought out the precious truth in the presence of many witnesses. The Lord had already pointed out that men do not put a light in secret, nor under the corn-measure, nor under the bed; the apostle was an unwearied and whole-hearted witness for Christ unto all men of what he had seen and heard, yea and of the things wherein the Lord was to appear to him. And the "many witnesses" among whom Timothy had heard these things from Paul would not only encourage to the greater spread of the truth but confirm the communications made. For here not inspiration is predicated of the many witnesses, but exact information in order to the confirmation and propagation of the truth. If Christ is the true Light, His own also are the light of the world. To be the salt of the earth is not enough, however good: activity in grace is called for - light diffusing itself and dispelling darkness. For this suited vessels are requisite; not learned, nor even educated, but "faithful men". To them was Timothy to entrust what was revealed of God, in order to build up souls and give them an inheritance among all them that are sanctified. Nor as a simple fact is it assumed that faithful men are necessarily men who are able to teach. It is rather "such as" shall be competent to teach others also. All is as simple as it is beautifully precise.
The apostle now resumes what is rather personal than relative, though he gradually enlarges into what is comprehensive as well as of the deepest importance for the servants of Christ.
"Take thy share of suffering hardship as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one on service entangleth himself with the businesses of life, that he may please him that enlisted [him]. But if one also contend [in the games], he is not crowned unless he have contended lawfully. The labouring husbandman must first partake of the fruits" (vers. 3-6).
It will be noticed that the words "thou therefore" disappear. They were in all probability an importation, perhaps, inadvertently, from verse 1, where the emphasis is of intention and moment. Here such an emphasis is not only uncalled for but would be improper. The timid sensitiveness of Timothy wanted the personal appeal to cast him upon the grace in Christ Jesus for inward strengthening; and this very especially in communicating the truth to faithful men such as should be qualified to teach others also. This is ever a delicate task; and one that demands much moral courage and tact which His grace alone can supply, let the competency be what it may. It was therefore emphatically so to Timothy.
Here too, but without any such prominency, Timothy is exhorted to take his share in suffering hardship, but not "with me" as many understand besides the Revised Version. Really it narrows and spoils the force. The Greek warrants only the general thought of sharing ill with his comrades, Paul or any other. It is left purposely large. This association is lost by the false reading of the Received Text, followed by the Authorized Version, as already alluded to. Not personal emphasis but general share is the thought rather than with Paul in particular. Nor does the particular passage in 2Ti_1:8 warrant "with me," but expressly "with the gospel" which is personified by the great apostle. There is the difference however that our verse does not express with whom he was called to share affliction, nor should we supply it. The construction evidently differs from that in the preceding chapter, and the sense is best left in the vague of the original.
But Timothy's share of suffering is defined. It was to be as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. The "fellow-soldier" of the Clermont MS. goes too far, if it be not also irreverent. In an enemy's land who could wonder that Timothy was called to take his share in suffering?
This naturally leads to the more generally applied figure of verse 4. "No one when on campaign entangleth himself in the businesses of life, that he may please him that enrolled him." The force of the allusion is as evident as its universal truth. Who in the Roman empire was ignorant of the fact? No doubt furlough might allow of relaxation, and completed service, of perfect liberty; but to Christ's servant here below is no furlough and no discharge from his duty. Hence the apostle does not speak simply of a "man that warreth" as in the Authorized Version, but of one on actual service, and therefore he can stamp the truth with an absolute negative. "No one when serving entangleth himself with the affairs (or businesses) of life." It is surprising that the Revised Version follows the Authorized alone of all the English versions in the needless qualification of "this life". It is the more improper, because scripture had already appropriated the demonstrative pronoun not to βίος but to ζωή (Act_5:20). It would however be a gross error to think that for the servant of Christ this excludes occupation, if he judge under any circumstances that he is called to provide things honest with his hands or his head. The apostle himself is its best refutation. The workman whether in the gospel or in the church is worthy of his hire. But many a valued man may serve Christ either way or in both, who does not give up his so-called secular employment. He might be assured even that the measure of his gift did not create such a claim on the assembly as to warrant it. And even the greatest of labourers felt it his joy and would not have his boast made vain in declining to use his power in the gospel for himself: so penetrated and filled was he with the spirit of that grace in God which is the source of the gospel itself (2Co_11:7-9). To entangle oneself in the businesses of life means really to give up separation from the world by taking one's part in outward affairs as a bona-fide partner in it. The servant of Christ is bound whatever he does to do it unto the Lord and therefore in conformity with His word. In everything he serves the Lord Christ; nor is this bondage of the law but liberty in the Spirit, though he be the Lord's bondman. As the soldier on campaign has to please him that enrolled his name, so evermore has the Christian servant to please the Lord. He Himself has said, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Mat_11:30).
But there is a second illustration of great moment. "And if also one contend in the games, he is not crowned unless he have contended lawfully." What can be conceived more needed or weightier in practice' The servant of Christ is called to be as careful as an athlete; but if so, he is bound to observe the revealed will of the Lord, no less rigorously than those who took their part in the games of Greece. General fidelity ought never to be sought or allowed as a cover for delinquency. Nor can the highest excellence in the highest objects excuse a departure even in small things from truth or righteousness; as he who infringed in any way the law of the games was therefore excluded from the chaplet of victory.
There is a third maxim which has been singularly misunderstood by truly spiritual minds. Yet the structure of the sentence is not really obscure.* The difficulty is due rather to a certain prejudice as to the sense or its application. The figure is taken from agriculture, not from military service nor from the well-known games. The stress is on the "labouring husbandman". The love of Christ must constrain and brotherly love must continue, in order that the servant of Christ persevere unintermittingly in his labours. Hence we find in the former Epistle (1Ti_5:17) that, while the elders that rule well were to be counted worthy of double honour, those are distinguished "especially" that labour in the word and in teaching. So here, where the general service of Christ is in question, the labouring husbandman ought first to partake of the fruits. Impossible that God could deign to be a debtor to any. "Each shall receive his own reward according to his own labour," whether the planter or the waterer or any other (1Co_3:8). For God is not unrighteous in any case to forget our work and the love shown to His name. But the labour of love has especial value in His sight. This may be in very young saints (1Th_1:3), no less than the work of faith and the patience of hope. It is most blessed where the servant of Christ is sustained in such labour. "The labouring husbandman ought first (whatever others may, and before all) to partake of the fruits". It is rather a truism that he must labour before partaking of the fruits, or "labouring first must be partaker of the fruits" as the margin of the Authorized Version says. But this is not the sense of the phrase in any grammatical construction of it possible, nor, if it were, could it afford so grave or so cheering a call to the labourer.
* The notion of a transposition of κοπιῶντα πρῶτον is unworthy of Wakefield's Silva Critica i. 155 and not confirmed by Winer's reference to Xenoph. Cyrop. I. iii. 18. And the Ethiopic V. exhibits a loose paraphrase, not a real rendering. The old expositors are as uncertain as most moderns.
Thus in the three maxims of verses 4-6 we have first the object or starting-point; then the ways or means guarded, as well as the end; and lastly encouragement along the road for him who labours in love, as faith does.
The bearing of that which the apostle had just inculcated was of deep meaning and great value, but by no means obvious. Hence it would appear he adds, "Apprehend what I say; for the Lord shall give thee understanding in all things" (ver. 7). Such is the true text, not "the things which" (ἅ) in detail, as the Text Rec., but "what" (ὅ) as a whole. This makes all the more pertinent the assurance, not prayer merely, which follows, "And the Lord shall give thee understanding in all things," as large in its range as minute in its ramifications. On this he can count who has an unction from the Holy One, for the Spirit searches all things, even the depths of God.
"Remember Jesus Christ raised out of [the] dead, of David's seed, according to my gospel, in which I suffer unto bonds as an evil-doer: but the word of God is not bound. For this cause I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain salvation, that [is] in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. Faithful [is] the word: for if we died together with [Him], we shall also live together; if we endure, we shall also reign together; if we shall deny [Him], He also will deny us, if we are unfaithful, He abideth faithful, for He cannot deny Himself" (vers. 8-13).
The apostle in these verses recalls to the person of Christ, the touchstone and substance of the truth, but to His person according to Paul's gospel bound up indissolubly with His work. "Remember Jesus Christ, of David's seed, raised out of the dead according to my gospel." Christ is at once the object and the fulfilment of the promises, but He is incalculably more. He is raised from among the dead, the Beginning, the First-born of the new creation. He is as thus risen the head of an entirely new system. From first to last this is the teaching of Paul. He affirms of Jesus, the Son of God, that He was born of David's seed according to the flesh. but that He was marked out Son of God in power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by resurrection of dead men, as stated in the beginning of the Epistle to the Romans (Rom_1:3-4).
But here is there not a practical rather than a dogmatic aim before the Spirit of God? Even as Messiah, the Lord Jesus must be risen from the dead. If any one was entitled to earthly honour and glory, it was the Son of David; but, according to Paul's gospel, He passes through death into resurrection. Such is the only mould of blessing, the world and man being as they are. No statement can be stronger. As Head of the church there would be no wonder; but for the Seed of David it is surprising, yet most true. For the church itself has no existence, save on the ground of His being the risen Head, and in heavenly places. In heaven only could the Head be, in order to give a heavenly character to those who are united to Him by the Holy Ghost on earth. But Paul's gospel insists on the great fact of resurrection from among the dead - even for the Messiah. And this alone is true of Him in that character now - He is risen, but not reigning. Much less is the Christian reigning as yet.
On the contrary, after that gospel the apostle says, "I suffer hardship unto bonds, as a malefactor." Things in the world are wholly out of course. Nothing is settled in order according to God, though His providence governs, and every soul is called to be subject to the powers that be. They may reign, and we are commanded to honour the king habitually, as indeed to honour all men passingly; but we are called to forego all thought of honour now for ourselves. We are called to the communion of Christ; it is our proper honour to share in our measure what the apostle suffered so largely. All thought of present ease, of establishment here below, of a constitution settled and stable in the sight of men, violates the truth before us, as indeed every other presentation of it now to the saint, or to the church as a whole. He that had most of true honour as a Christian in the gospel declares that he suffers as a malefactor unto bonds.
In plain contrast with this, we read of the Corinthian saints reigning without the apostle, who speaks there also of God's setting forth "us the apostles" last of all, as men doomed to death (1Co_4:8-9). Christ knew the death of the cross as none ever did or could; and Paul was yet to know death, as His faithful martyr. All for him was true. With the Corinthians alas! how much was false. They had slipped in heart from sharing His rejection. Indeed as yet they had scarcely known it. They had received Christ for eternal life and redemption; they as yet knew nothing of dying daily (1Co_15:31).
So here the apostle solemnly anticipates the danger, for Christians generally, of settling down here below. This is incomparably more serious. Levity of thought and feeling, the power of nature, the activity of the flesh, may be sad in young saints; but immeasurably worse is it, when old saints depart from the high and heavenly standard they have learnt. Such was the danger now, and the apostle is here awakening Timothy to his own anxiety about it. We see the evil in a gross form when the Christian body acquired power and honour and earthly glory in the days of Constantine and his successors; but the mischief was at work extensively, it would appear from this Epistle, at the time the apostle was writing. The power of the resurrection from among the dead meets the evil for all that have ears to hear. It is wholly past as a living thing for those who accept earthly grandeur as a right estate for the Christian now. He who is most right before God must be content to suffer most before men, as the apostle was seen doing unto bonds.
But suffering wrongfully, even unto bonds as a malefactor, did not hinder blessing. "The word of God is not bound." On the contrary, such circumstances attract fresh notice. A class wholly new have their attention drawn to the revelation of God. The name of the Lord comes before magistrates, officials of the law, soldiers, seamen, governors, and perhaps even crowned heads. It may be the world's shame that so it should be, but rejection is the path of the Christian, the true glory of the church, till Jesus reigns. The preacher himself may be a prisoner; "but the word of God is not bound."
"Therefore I endure all things for the elect's sake, that they also may obtain salvation, that [is] in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory." Here was a most dauntless heart, and the eye undimmed by present sorrow, for it was single, and his whole body full of light. If Christ loved the elect - Christ Who suffered for their sins, Paul could use language boldly, yet truly, for he shared His love, though it was Christ's alone to "bear our sins in His own body on the tree." No man, no saint, no apostle, shares that atoning work; yet it is not presumption for the feeblest saint to suffer with Him any more that to hope for glorification with Him. If we are children, then heirs - heirs of God and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with Him that we may be also glorified together (Rom_8:17).
But here the apostle goes farther; "I endure all things for the elect's sake, that they also may obtain salvation that [is] in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory." How few would venture to say these words as their own souls' experience from that day to this! Nevertheless we may earnestly desire it in our measure; but it supposes in the believer not merely a good conscience and a heart burning in love, but himself thoroughly self-judged, and Christ dwelling in his heart by faith. The apostle openly declares it to Timothy; and surely it was meant to act powerfully on his fellow-labourer's soul, as also on ours. It is not that the salvation of the elect is uncertain: the Lord Jesus will surely guard that according to all His gracious power and the unfailing counsels of God. But as another apostle says, If the righteous is scarcely saved, where will the ungodly and sinner appear? (1Pe_4:18). It is indeed with difficulty that the elect are saved, though saved they assuredly will be; but as it needs all the resources of divine grace, so it calls for all the love of Christ in laborious service, and, what is also most effective, it hails the endurance of all things for their sake.
Nor is this all that the apostle has to urge on this theme. "Faithful is the word; for if we died together with Him, we shall also live together; if we endure, we shall also reign together." He does not add as to this word "worthy of all acceptation"; for it is a saying for saints rather than for sinners as such; but the saying, beyond a doubt, is faithful; for "if we died together with Him, we shall also live together." There is no Christian who died not with Christ. It is the very truth which every baptized soul confesses in his baptism, even were he dumb. And it is lack of faith, not lack of speech, which makes it untrue of any.
Accordingly, the apostle is urging, not what is beyond almost any to say, lest it might be presumptuous and vain, but what all that are true must join as the confession of grace and truth from the starting point. It is the hypothetical clause, which is decisive, yet no Christians ought to shrink, nor can they truly shrink, from it; for Christ it was Who, having suffered all, gave all freely. And "if we died with Him," which is indisputable for the believer now, "we shall also live with Him." It is of the bright and blessed future Paul here assures us, though it is equally true that we live now because He lives, or, as it is put elsewhere, Christ lives in us. But here the living with Him remains before us as a hope. Here, and now, we are to bear about in our bodies the dying of the Lord Jesus (2Co_4:10); by and by it will be nothing but living with Him.
So, "if we endure, we shall also reign together." Here need be no question; it is suffering now, not yet reigning with Him. The reading in some ancient authorities of Rev. 5 or 20 (that the saints reign now) is unequivocal error. It is wrong morally as well as dogmatically. We shall reign with Christ; but even He sits on the Father's throne as yet. He waits to receive His own throne; and so do we much more. Were our hearts right, we should not wish to reign without Him; as we should have a sounder faith, if we held, that He is not reigning yet, but gone to receive a kingdom, and to return. He will come in His kingdom, which He has not yet received. Till then we are called to endure, not to reign; when He shall appear, we shall appear with Him; when He reigns, so shall we with Him.
But there is solemn caution, as well as sure expectation of glory. "If we shall deny Him, He also will deny us; if we are faithless, He abideth faithful; for He cannot deny Himself." There was danger in a day of declension particularly of departure not only from this or that divine principle but from Himself, and this permanently. Nor does the apostle bolster up the saints in what is the most dangerous of delusions, that there is no danger. For dangers abound on all sides; and we ought to know that grievous times were to come in the last times. Denying the Lord, so far from being impossible for a servant of His, is exactly what scripture shows us to have been the fact in one most honoured, who had thought that for him, of all men, it was impossible; yet was Peter on the eve of it. No doubt this was but a passing act, however shameful and deplorable, however repeated then, and with aggravation; yet the all-overcoming all-forgiving, grace of Christ rose above and effaced it, turning it even to never-to-be-forgotten profit, and fruitful blessing. But where it is a course of life, as here ("if we shall," not merely if we should as an act), the consequence is, as it ought to be, the necessary vindication on God's part of His injured majesty: "He also will deny us." God would cease to be God, if He acquiesced in the dishonour of His Son. The believer bows and believes, adores and serves. The unbeliever, and the denier if possible yet more, may insult now, but both must ere long honour Him in judgment, "that all may honour the Son even as they honour the Father" (Joh_5:23).
There is a closing sentence of great weight, "if we are unfaithful, He abideth faithful"; and this for the most convincing and glorious of reasons, "for He cannot deny Himself." It may at first hearing seem to take from the ease and flow of the sentence to read "for", as we ought on good and ancient authority. But on reflection this really adds not a little to its force; because it is not a mere independent addition to confirm the foregoing: the ground or proof of His abiding fidelity lies in the blessed feet of His unchanging truth.
Now Paul turns to another class of dangers, not so common, but rising from verbal disputes to profanity and impious daring and corruption of fundamental truth. Some shrink from the least consideration of such snares; but nothing is gained by shrinking from what we ought to face, if our delight be in what is holy, good, and true, instead of curiously prying into evil. It is the light which makes everything manifest; and light we are in the Lord. Light is the congenial element of the new man, as love is its activity.
"Of these things put in remembrance, testifying earnestly before the Lord that they fight not about words, to no profit, for subversion of those that hear. Be diligent to present thyself approved to God, a workman not to be ashamed, cutting straightly the word of truth. But shun profane babblings, for they will advance unto greater ungodliness, and their word will eat up as a gangrene: of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus, [men] who concerning the truth went astray, saying that the resurrection hath already taken place, and overthrow the faith of some" (vers. 14-18).
Here Timothy is called not to understand merely but to put others in remembrance of the great vital truths that the apostle has laid down. He is also charged in the sight of the Lord to warn against word-fights, profitable for nothing, and calculated to subvert the hearers. This is a most wholesome caution needed widely and in all ages. There are real differences even among Christians, more or less serious in disguising or perverting the truth, But those who value the truth, especially if there be no aggressive zeal, are particularly apt to fall into distinctions without a difference. Zeal of this sort makes them doughty word-warriors. How true that this is useful for nothing, while it is readily available for subverting those who hear! For the word-warrior knows when to stop, the simple who hear pass on and are punished There is much vanity, and little, if any, sincerity in such disputes; they tend not to edification, but to real and very grave mischief. The charge to Timothy is no less a duty for those who have moral influence in the assembly and seek the Lord's glory there at any time.
But there is also a more positive and personal call in verse 15: "Be diligent to present thyself approved to God a workman not to be ashamed, cutting straightly the word of truth." Example sways more than precept, and those who teach others have especial reason to dread failure or carelessness in themselves. Further, every pious man knows that the first of all obligations is to stand right with God. Timothy therefore was to use diligence to present himself approved to God in the first instance. Where this was not true, his words might be right enough in themselves, but his work would lack blessing, and himself be ever liable to shame. In fact his course would be more or less hypocritical. There could be no courage before the enemy, where the conscience was not good before God. One must seek to be approved alike in conduct and service, approved to God if shame is to be avoided even now. Again, what confidence can there be in drawing out and applying the word of truth with an unwavering heart and hand? The scripture needed might otherwise condemn oneself. A man without conscience might speak out boldly; he that feared God must tremble in blaming another for a wrong which he knew in himself. It is of all importance therefore! that the workman should present himself approved to God: otherwise his testimony cannot but be timid, feeble, and uncertain.
But there may be a further duty as regards the profane babblings of pretentious men, never so self-satisfied as when they err most. This evil had already set in, as the article appears to show. They were not unknown but existing follies among those who bore the name of the Lord. Timothy was not called to occupy himself, still less to engage in controversy, with them. The apostle's word is "avoid" or shun. This again is an exhortation of divine wisdom. Some conscious of ability to dissect and oppose evil are prone to meddle with these vain profanities. It is not wholesome for themselves; it may injure the saints, who valuing the labourers may saturate their minds with these dreary efforts, which as a general rule inflate instead of convincing the guilty parties. To Titus a very similar exhortation is given by our apostle for an analogous evil (Tit_3:9). Time is too precious save for that which edifies; and he who undertakes to contend with every evil dreamer may succeed in vanquishing them, but he is in imminent danger of getting serious harm to himself. It is a good thing to be zealously affected in good always; it is not well to turn aside and deal with evil, unless to do so be the sternest duty.
The apostle adds another reason in this case, "For they will advance unto a greater degree of impiety, and their word will eat up as a gangrene." This statement clearly proves the uselessness of meddling with what is not only vain but profane. There was no fear of God in those who so indulged, and the fear of God is the beginning of all that is good for fallen man. Till conscience is reached, it is useless to expect that the precious revelations of God will not be misused; and this is especially true of such as profess to believe the gospel. Guilty of profanity, they need not arguments but repentance. Nor was anything more likely to touch their conscience than that so gentle and gracious a labourer as Timothy should avoid their words. They will advance to further ungodliness, "and their words will eat up as a gangrene." Discussion would rather flatter their self-importance, and could not possibly stay so destructive an evil.
Again, the apostle points out that this frightful evil in the bosom of the saints once, if not any longer, was no imaginary evil to haunt souls, but a fact for salutary fear and horror: "Of whom is Hymenaeus and Philetus, who as to the truth went astray," or literally, missed the mark, saying that "the resurrection had taken place already, and overthrow the faith of some."
It is of deep interest to weigh the character of this error. It was not ignorance of the truth so much as exaggeration. It was the exalting of present privilege to the denial of our hope at Christ's coming. No doubt they piqued themselves on higher truth than others taught, and on superior intelligence. This is an extreme danger for those who have a real thirst and value for the truth of God; if not watchful, they are the most liable to be ensnared.
But the remedy is simple and sure when men cry up their wares as being above all "precious", and therefore depreciate the tried and faithful servants of the Lord as being those teaching on altogether lower ground. The saints will find it invaluable to cleave to the truth they have always received since they knew God, or rather were known of Him. These pretentious claims will sooner or later prove subversive of foundation truth and plain duty. The saints may not be able quickly to discern the worthless or evil character of what vaunts itself; but they do know the treasure they already possess, of which these new views would deprive them. They have only to hold fast the faith, the common faith, which the high teachers despise; and as they thus resist the devil, he will flee from them.
But those by grace endowed with a more discerning eye are permitted to see more. That the resurrection is past already, though put forth as the expression of the highest present privilege, does in fact undermine the truth set forth pre-eminently for help and guidance throughout this Epistle. God saved us with a holy calling according to His own purpose and grace, given us in Christ Jesus before time began. Christ annulled death, and brought life and incorruption to light by the gospel. This we believe and know, not to speak of the mystery of Christ and of the assembly. But these true and blessed privileges are given us, so much the more to suffer with joy and endure in faith and patience now, and wait for Christ and His appearing to bring in His kingdom, when we shall also reign together with Him.
But the error of the resurrection already past is fatal to this endurance meanwhile. It would, if true, entitle us now to reign as kings, to take our ease, to enjoy present honour and glory; and thus it is directly framed and calculated by the enemy to thwart the will of our Lord, Who calls us to share His sufferings till we are glorified together. Hence it is false as a doctrine, it is ruinous for practice, and it destroys all communion with Christ, as sharing His: affections in separation from the world. It would be hardly possible to discover any delusion more opposed to the truth in its character and consequences for the soul and the walk, as well as in counteraction of the moral glory of the Lord. Well can we understand therefore that its teachers "overthrow the faith of some." And if it were so then, how much more widely extended and settled do we find the mischief now, when Christ's coming is no longer before the saints as a constant living hope, and the resurrection of the body is practically nothing to them, satisfied that after death their souls go to heaven! The world becomes then a scene of present enjoyment. Association with a once dead and rejected Christ is unthought of. They flatter themselves that they have attained to a wisdom higher than was known by the apostles in those earlier days, now that they have learnt to enjoy the best of both worlds.
The truth cannot be undermined without the most withering consequences, both morally and ecclesiastically. It is not only communion interrupted between Christ and His own, but divergence from and opposition to His mind, more or less distinctly. Those who undermine may of course be deceived themselves; they may flatter themselves as contributing a higher testimony. But truth is never at issue with truth: in Christ all is in harmony. To say that the resurrection is past already is both the index of the grave heterodoxy at work destructive of our proper hope, while professing to give advance of privilege, and also the ready instrument of deep and rapid progress in evil. For when the resurrection comes, there will be no more need of watching unto prayer, no more endurance of affliction, no more the good fight of faith: all will be settled in power, glory, rest, and enjoyment.
That we are dead and risen with Christ is true and holy, and cannot be too urgently pressed on the believer from first to last of his career; but we, groaning within ourselves, as having the first-fruits of the Spirit, also await the adoption, the redemption of our body (Rom_8:23). This will only be at Christ's coming, which the enemy would also conceal and rob us of, the most influential of all hopes for such as love Him and would know the fellowship of His sufferings. How crafty and pernicious then the device which, turning our hope into an expression of high privilege now, would thus annul our heavenly hope, destroy communion and walk, hide Christ from our heart's longing, and make rest in present things a wise and right thing!
Such was the error of Hymenaeus and Philetus: profane babblings truly, and sure to proceed farther in ungodliness, and a very gangrene in its devouring corruption. Such error is the overthrow of faith wherever it is accepted.
"Nevertheless the firm foundation of God standeth, having this seal, [The] Lord knoweth those that are His; and, Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from unrighteousness. Now in a great house there are vessels not only of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earthenware, and some unto honour, and some unto dishonour. If one therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, serviceable for the master, prepared unto every good work. But flee youthful lusts, and follow after righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (vers. 19-22).
It may be well that the reader should know how much speculation has wrought about "the firm foundation of God." Some have conjectured that it is the doctrine of the resurrection, others the promises, some again election. Further, it has been supposed to be the church, or again, with better reason, Christ Himself. But there seems no sufficient ground for defining the foundation in this place. If the Holy Spirit has left it general, why should any seek to limit the thought? The object clearly is to mark what abides firm and of God in the midst of confusion and ruin; and to use that immutable foundation for the comfort and good courage of all who desire to do His will. Doctrines, promises, election, are out of the question; and the church, or the believer, is rather that for which provision is made in the midst of the existing disorder. On the face of it, the house cannot be the foundation; and it seems unreasonable to argue that Christ Himself should be said to have this seal: "The Lord knoweth them that are His"; and "Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity."
Nothing more simple or important if the firm foundation of God be taken in the abstract; those who stand upon it are on the one side comforted, on the other solemnly admonished. The state of things was such that one could no longer suppose all who composed the church to be members of Christ's body. Carelessness had allowed a harvest of weakness and shame; the godly were compelled to fall back on the assurance that the Lord knoweth them that are His, but along with that they could not but press Christian responsibility - "Let every one that nameth the name of the Lord depart from iniquity."
It will be noticed that here it is no question of "Christ". but of "the Lord". "Christ" is the proper expression where grace known and enjoyed is before the heart; "the Lord" as properly comes into use where profession and responsibility hold good. Even if there be no real communion, there can be no doubt that such is the case in the clause before us; and such is the reading of the best and most ancient authorities followed by all modern critics, even though they may have no notion of the difference in the truth intended.
There is, however, a great deal more, and of paramount importance, in that which the apostle adds, "But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earthenware, and some unto honour, and some unto dishonour." There we have a living picture of what the church was becoming. How different from the view given in the First Epistle! (1Ti_3:15) There the house of God is said to be the church of the living God, the pillar and stay of the truth. It is the church on earth, God's habitation in the Spirit, as that which alone here below presents and maintains the truth-before all men. The Jews had not the truth, but the law; the Gentiles had only vanities, and corruptions, and dreams of men. The assembly of the living God held forth the truth before all eyes. But now, in the Second Epistle, the influx, not only of ease instead of suffering, and of timidity instead of courage, and of false doctrines, even in fundamentals, gave occasion for the Spirit of God to represent a far different condition. It is not that the Spirit of God has abandoned His seat, but He no longer characterizes the house as that of the living God. It may assume a greater appearance, but there is far more unreality. "In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earthenware."
Long before, the apostle (1Co_3:5) had prepared us for that which might be built even upon Christ Himself. Who among even true servants is like Paul, a wise master-builder? Every one therefore should take heed how he builds thereon. One might build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones; another, on the contrary, might build upon it wood, hay, stubble; too many, a mixture of both. And the day shall declare, as the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. That which abides is proved to be acceptable to God, that which cannot stand the fire will be so far loss to the workman, even though he himself shall be saved. Here in the Second Epistle to Timothy the apostle is looking not at the process but at the result. In a great house there are not only precious vessels but the commonest - "and some unto honour, and some unto dishonour." God's house therefore is here regarded as reduced to a human comparison. It was becoming just like what we find among men on the earth; it has no longer that exclusively divine stamp which one used to expect in God's house. Failure in many ways has vitiated the testimony; and the result is that mixture which is so abhorrent to God and to those who love His will and Himself.
What is to be done then? Are we to accept His dishonour, and to lie down in despair? Or must one be bound hand and foot to unity, and to shut one's eyes to all the sin and shame? A lowly-minded saint would feel bitterly the dilemma, and could not satisfy his soul by verbal protests against the evil he was sanctioning by his actual life and ways. In such a state it is well to humble one's self, and like Daniel to confess the sins of all one is associated with, as well as one's own sins. But is this all? Thank God, it is not; the apostle immediately gives precise and authoritative direction. The most timid need not fear to follow; the heart most oppressed is entitled to be of good cheer; and those who cleave to the allowance of evil under the plea of not breaking unity are rebuked and confounded by the apostle's call, "If one therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour".
When the assembly is in its normal condition, and an evil-doer, however gross, is among the saints, the word is, "Put away from among yourselves the wicked person" (1Co_5:13). But here it is the converse. Evil may prevail in an assembly, and the moral sensibility be so low that the mass refuse to purge out the old leaven: the vessels unto dishonour have influence enough to remain in spite of all efforts for their removal. What then? The apostle commands that the God-fearing man should purge himself from them. This meets the conscience if it were of only one; but the self-same principle, it is plain, applies to all who discern the evil, after patient waiting on the assembly and every scriptural means also employed in vain to rouse the conscience. At bottom it is evidently the same principle of separation from evil which in 1 Cor. 5 is applied to put the evil-doer out. In 2 Tim. 2 it is a far more developed case where the well-doer, having striven without effect to correct the evils sustained within, is bound to purge himself out. Impossible that the Spirit of God would seal evil under the name of the Lord Jesus. We are unleavened as surely as Christ our passover was sanctified for us. "Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth" (1Co_5:8). The assembly which professes to be of God cannot bind Christ and known evil together. If any therefore bear the Lord's name, who, under the plea of unity, in the love of ease, or through partiality for their friends, tolerate the evil which scripture shows to be hateful to God, a godly man has no option, but is bound to hear the divine word and to purge himself from these vessels to dishonour.
Doubtless this application of God's immutable holiness to guide the saint in these sad and difficult circumstances is a novel one. The apostle only gave it in the last Epistle he ever wrote. The reason is manifest: no occasion as yet had risen to call for so serious a word. Disorders had often been, and some of extreme character; but hitherto the saints, however faulty, had broken down, and obedience at last had prevailed. No need had ever existed for a just abandonment of those who had walked together in the assembly. But here the Spirit of God brings before the apostle's eyes a new and still more appalling result of the increasing power of evil: Whenever vessels to dishonour are forced on our acceptance, we have no choice: the honour of the Lord is above all other considerations; and, whether it be the most valiant, or the most timid, we are alike called to obey the apostle's command which applies to this state. Let us only be sure that the evil does really call for absolute separation; and, further, that patient and godly remonstrance are duly applied to get the evil judged, rather than to separate. But if it be sheltered and sustained to the dishonour of the Lord and His word, there is no alternative but to purge oneself out.
In these circumstances, to give up conscience is in effect to give up God and His Christ; humbly but firmly to purge oneself from the vessels of dishonour is to be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, serviceable for the Master, prepared unto every good work. So it is ever found in experience: godly separation costs much but gains more. He that separates lightly for a mere idea or for reasons of his own is but sounding brass, and gathers profit for neither himself nor anyone else; yea, he is a standing reproach against the Lord and His word where it truly applies. But the saint who purges himself out with the deepest pain to himself and godly sorrow for others, and the rather because he believes them to be the Lord's, enters into fresh blessing, and renews, as it were, all that is proper to a saint, with fresh power to his own soul. "He shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, serviceable for the Master, prepared unto every good work." Such an assurance is the more comforting, because he must make up his mind for the keenest shafts from those he has left behind, as well as from all who confound easy indifference with love for the church of God. Besides, he might dread a narrow circle for his affections, and a contracted sphere for his work. How gracious that the Lord should forestall all these apprehensions and give him the promise, if he have gone through the great trial with God, of enlargement of heart in all that is for His glory!
It may be noticed that there is no such thought as quitting the house, though some have fallen into this misconception in their zeal for holiness. But we could not, and would not, so long as we bear the Lord's name. An apostate no doubt has abandoned His name. But to purge one's self from vessels to dishonour is here laid down as a positive duty, and, so far from being presumption, it is simple obedience to the word of the Lord if done rightly. It is therefore the path of true and divinely given humility, whatever be the terrorism sought to be exercised by those who seek dominion over the faith of the saints. Purging oneself from evil-doers within the house is not to leave the house, but to walk there as one ought according to scripture.
So it was at the Reformation. Luther, Calvin, Zwingle, Cranmer, did not leave the house of God when they rejected the mass, the worship of the saints, the authority of the pope, and other evil doctrines and practices. On the contrary, they were learning, however slowly and imperfectly, to renounce what disfigured that house, and was most antagonistic to Him Who dwelt there. It was only the gross bigoted ignorance of Romanists which taxed them with leaving the house of God. The papal party assumed, as other pretenders are apt to do, that they exclusively form that house; whereas, as far as the Reformation went, the godly among the Protestants sought to purge themselves from vessels to dishonour, while the Romanists crave only the more pertinaciously to the evil, and thus became increasingly guilty. But both were in the house all the same; only some more acceptably to God, others more offensively, than before.
The principle applies no less when the godly amongst Protestants and Romanists began to discern the true character of the church, and the wrong done by prevalent error and evil practice, not merely to the members, but to the Head of the body. This led, through a better knowledge of the written word, to the distinct conviction of the injured rights of the Holy Ghost in the assembly as well as in ministry. And those who were thus taught of God clearly saw that they must carry out the truth in faith practically, and so seek to glorify the Lord. It were wretched and ungrateful to grieve the Spirit by treating all they had learnt as mere ideas for discussion or criticism of existing thoughts and ways. But by thus acting faithfully as far as they knew, did they thereby leave the house? The very reverse; they were only striving, in deference to scripture and in dependence on the Lord, to behave themselves better in that house. Christendom is not given up by walking more according to God's will in the true path for Christians, whether individually or corporately. And the self-same principle is no less valid at any time, no matter how truly gathered the saints may once have been. Vessels to dishonour cannot enjoy Christ's sanction, and ought to be intolerable to the faithful. "If one purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel to honour."
But the tendency is great to press this searching truth on others, and to claim, without saying so, an immunity for ourselves: so readily does the assembly slip away from the faithfulness of the Lord when really leaned on, to set up a gradually growing plea of indefectibility. For faith degenerates into superstition the more rapidly as spirituality declines, love decays, knowledge becomes more self-complacent, and forms displace reality. A new and pettier Rome soon develops and is cried up as the only right thing. Yet the truth abides for the Spirit to use for Christ's glory, whenever the eye is, or is made, single. We are bound, if we would please Him, to sift ourselves by His word even more rigidly than others.
Nor does the apostle forget personal dangers when one might be pre-occupied with public evils: "But flee youthful lusts, and follow after righteousness, faith, love, peace, with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (ver. 22). It is of high moment, especially in the circumstances of clearing ourselves from what ensnares many a saint, and perhaps had ensnared ourselves too more or less in times past, that we should not give occasion to them that seek it. In vain do you testify against that which is ecclesiastically offensive to God, if you fail in conduct plainly enough to be seen by those virtually censured by you. Hence the care of Paul to urge earnestly on Timothy to beware of that which might hinder or trouble, and the rather then and thus. Lusts youthful must be shunned, not only worldly or carnal but "youthful", such as impetuosity, self-confidence, levity, impatience, or the like. Nor is it enough to watch against what elders might chiefly resent: he was to pursue practical consistency or righteousness, to walk in faith, not mere human prudence or policy, to hold fast love, not selfish interests, and to maintain peace, not allow strife nor push for his own will.
But more, he is encouraged to do all this in personal association and mutual action "with those that call on the Lord out of a pure heart". I cannot agree with a German's suggestion (followed by Alford, Ellicott, et al.)to remove the comma after "peace," so as to separate "with those that call . . ." from the verb, "follow", and connect it only with the substantive "peace", immediately preceding. Heb_12:14 has no real analogy with the clause; for to limit the pursuance of peace to those that so call on the Lord would give the poorest possible sense, as being such as presented the least strain. Not so: the faithful man, if he purged himself from vessels to dishonour, and walked in self-judgment and cultivation of ways pleasing to the Lord, is cheered with the prospect of companionship in his path. He need not fear isolation, as he loves the communion of saints. God will not fail to work in those whose hearts are cleansed by faith. Let him then pursue that path, not doubting but with good cheer. He will not be alone; he is to follow after the way that is acceptable to God "with those that call on the Lord with a pure heart," i.e., true-hearted saints, in contrast with the promoters or defenders of pravity in word or deed.
Thus is the will of the Lord made plain for a day of ruin. It is not for the faithful to abide in evil with empty protests, after the resources of patience are exhausted. It would be presumption in the face of scripture to stay in the vain hope of mending that which is publicly maintained and justified. The unmistakable call of God is to purge oneself out, and, carefully watching against one's own dangers, to follow the path of righteousness, faith, love, peace, not in pride or carelessness of isolation, but in the fellowship of the like-minded that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
From instruction on a large scale so impressive and opportune from that time and ever after, the apostle returns to exhortations of a more personal kind which none the less abide for us in all their value.
"But foolish and ignorant questionings avoid, knowing that they beget contentions. And a bondman of [the] Lord must not contend, but be gentle towards all, apt to teach, forbearing, in meekness instructing those that oppose, if haply God may give them repentance unto acknowledgment of truth, and they may wake up out of the snare of the devil, taken as they are by him, for His will" (vers. 23-26).
Earlier disputes, as in Romans 14-15, were very different, and far more respectable morally. For they arose chiefly from respect for Old Testament revelation in souls long familiar with the habits formed by it, and who were more or less jealous of that liberty which the Gentiles had entered with joy from their debasing servitude to idols. But the Greek mind, used to the frivolous discussions of philosophy, when not fully emancipated from mere intellectual activity, or not really kept in subjection to God's word, proved a fertile source of danger and evil, even to those not beguiled by such heterodoxy as had been exposed in verses 14-18. The grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ feeds the soul, lets in the bright light of God, draws out worship, and issues in fruitful ways of goodness and righteousness. Not so "the foolish and ignorant (or uninstructed) questionings", which Timothy is here enjoined to eschew. Nor could any words characterize these debaters more truly in themselves, or more cuttingly for such as indulged in or admired this mischievous trifling in the things of God; just as infidels wince under the proofs of their irrationalism, and sceptics smart when their credulity is made manifest.
The article is here apparent, though it cannot well stand in an idiomatic English version; it supposes the well-known custom of those alluded to, fruit of their will and self-confidence.
But the apostle appends a consequence greatly to be reprobated by one who loves the peace of the saints and seeks their edification. Such questionings "beget contentions," or fights. This is natural enough among men: human will breaks out in this way, yea, takes pleasure in strife for the mastery. Whence come wars, and whence fightings among you? says James. Is it not thence - from your pleasures which war in your members? (Jam_4:1). At bottom, it is the spirit of the world at enmity with God. Among those that bear the Lord's name it is deplorable, a witness really against Him instead of to Him and of Him. Yet the very earnestness of conviction may expose to the danger, where Christ is not before the eye, and we hang not on His grace. Let us never forget that grace and truth came by Him, not one or other only, but both. If grace is a snare when divorced from