1Ti_6:12. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal life.
THE Apostle Paul, being particularly conversant with the cities of Greece, and writing many of his epistles to Churches which he had established in that country, frequently alluded to the games which were there celebrated, taking from them metaphors whereby to illustrate the blessed truths of the Gospel. The public exhibitions of running, wrestling, fighting, formed the chief scenes of amusement to that people: those actions therefore being familiar to their minds, the terms by which they were commonly designated were well calculated to convey to them a full and comprehensive view of the different duties which they were called to perform. Indeed this is the great use of metaphors: they bring to the mind a vast accumulation of ideas under one single term; and serve at once, in a very peculiar manner, to instruct and edify the soul. The exhortation here given to Timothy is of this character. At the games, the prize for which the people contended was held forth to view: in allusion to which, the Apostle says, “Fight the good fight of faith; lay hold on eternal life.” The words indeed which are here used by St. Paul are not quite so definite as those which are used in our translation. If the English language admitted of it, they would be better translated, “Contend the good contest of faith.” The substance of them, however, may be considered by us under these two heads: Maintain the Christian’s contest: Secure the Christian’s prize.
Maintain the Christian’s contest—
The life of a Christian is a life of faith—
[The God whom he serves is invisible to mortal eyes; “being one whom no man hath seen, or can see.” Nor has the Saviour, whom he loves, ever been revealed to his organs of sense. It is by faith alone that he apprehends both the Father and the Son; deriving from their love all his motives to action, and from their power all his ability to act. It was thus that St. Paul lived: “The life which I now live in the flesh,” rays he, “I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me [Note: Gal_2:20.].” The object too, after which he aspires, is altogether unknown to him as an object of sense: he has never been carried up to heaven, to behold the glory that is there; nor has heaven been brought down to him, that he might know wherein its blessedness consists. But he believes that there is such a place, and that the blessedness of it will be an ample compensation for all that he can do or suffer in the way to it: and therefore “he looks not at the things which are seen and are temporal, but at the things which are unseen and eternal [Note: 2Co_4:18.].” In the whole of his way to heaven, “he walks by faith, and not by sight.”]
This life, however, involves him in continual conflicts—
[it is thought, by some, that a life of faith must, of necessity, be very easy, since the person so living has nothing to do but to believe. But it is no easy matter to go contrary to the dictates of sense; and to act, in reference to things invisible, as we would if they were present to our sight. In living by faith, we are withstood continually by those mighty enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil. The world presents to us its temptations on every side, if by any means it may engage us to follow some object of time or sense, and relax our pursuit of those higher objects on which our souls are bent. The flesh too solicits us, and pleads, yea, and strives and fights for indulgence; and, being ever present with us, is at all times ready to betray us into the hands of our enemies, and to bring us into subjection to its unhallowed lusts. And need 1 say, that Satan, too, is active to destroy us? So inveterate is his enmity, and so powerful his opposition, that all other enemies together are nothing in comparison of him. St. Paul says, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places [Note: Eph_6:12.].” Who can tell what “devices” that subtle foe puts forth in order to destroy us? His wiles are absolutely innumerable: they are such as nothing but Omniscience can guard us against, and Omnipotence enable us to defeat.]
And these conflicts he must steadily maintain—
[It is “a good fight” which we have to fight: no contest was ever so reasonable as this — — — or so profitable to the soul — — — or so pleasing to Almighty God — — — But remember, no truce is to be made with any one of our enemies: we must contend with them as for our very life. We are “not to fight as one that,” in a fictitious combat and in sport, “beateth the air;” but with all our might; “keeping under our body, and bringing into subjection” every appetite [Note: 1Co_9:26-27.]; and never resting, till “Satan himself be bruised under our feet [Note: Rom_16:20.].”
In maintaining this combat, we must use “faith” as our most effectual means both of assault and defence. No other “shield” have we in comparison of that [Note: Eph_6:16.]; nor can we find any better weapon, whereby to withstand Satan [Note: 1Pe_5:8-9.], or subdue the flesh [Note: Act_15:9.], or overcome the world [Note: 1Jn_5:4.].]
To this exhortation the Apostle adds,
Secure the Christian’s prize—
Eternal life is that prize which is set before him. The conquerors in the Grecian games had only a corruptible crown for their reward; but the victorious Christian has “a crown of glory, that fadeth not away [Note: 1Co_9:25.].” Yes, “this is the promise that God has promised us, even eternal life [Note: 1Jn_2:25.].” To this “he is called;” and with nothing short of this should he be content.
Let us, then, ever keep this in view—
[The sight of the prize held out to them, animated, no doubt, the people that were engaged in the various contests. And shall not the hope of eternal life encourage us? What could withstand us, if we kept that steadily in view? What could for a moment fascinate our minds, or what prevail to damp our ardour in the pursuit of it? In vain would the world offer its delights, or menace us with its displeasure: in vain would our corrupt appetites plead for a momentary indulgence, or Satan endeavour to beguile us with any promises whatever. If our eyes were only fixed habitually on the glory of heaven, we should prove as victorious as Moses himself, when “he refused to become the son of Pharaoh’s daughter; and chose to suffer affliction with the people of God, rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin, because he had respect unto the recompence of the reward [Note: Heb_11:24-26.].”
Let us never rest, till we are in actual possession of it—
[We must “lay such hold upon it,” that none shall ever be able to wrest it from us: as our Lord has said, “Hold fast that thou hast, that no man take thy crown [Note: Rev_3:11.].” “Look that ye lose not the things that ye have wrought, but that ye receive a full reward [Note: John, ver. 8.].” It is only “by a patient continuance in well-doing that we can attain to glory and honour and immortality [Note: Rom_2:7.].” “If we draw back, God’s soul will have no pleasure in us [Note: Heb_10:38.]:” nor can we ever be “partakers of Christ in the eternal world, unless we hold fast our confidence in him firm unto the end [Note: Heb_3:14.].” In every one of the epistles to the seven Churches of Asia, the final happiness of the saints was suspended on their fighting manfully unto the end, and overcoming all the enemies of their salvation: “Be ye then faithful unto death, and God will give you the crown, of life [Note: Rev_2:10.].”]
To what is here said, let me add,
A word of direction—
[“Put on, and keep ever girded upon you, the whole armour of God [Note: Eph_6:11.]” — — — Yet rely not on any preparation of your own; but “be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might [Note: Eph_6:10.].” Go forth, like David, in a simple dependence on your God; and he shall bring your every foe, however formidable, into the dust before you [Note: 1Sa_17:45-47.]. True it is, that you must be good “soldiers of Jesus Christ,” and “quit yourselves like men,” and “war a good warfare.” But “the battle is not yours, but God’s.” “By his own strength shall no man prevail [Note: 1Sa_2:9.]:” but “he who trusteth in the Lord shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end.”]
A word of encouragement—
[It is no just ground of discouragement to any man, that ho is weak: “when he is weak, then is he really strong; because God will perfect his own strength in his weakness.” Nor need any be afraid because they are young. Timothy was but young: yet to him was the exhortation in my text directed. Are any of you fainting by reason of the difficulties which you have to encounter? Think who it is that is engaged in your behalf, even Jesus, “mighty to save.” Think, too, what “a cloud of witnesses” are at this very moment viewing you with the deepest interest, and ready to rejoice in. your success. Think, also, what reflections you will have in a dying hour; when, in the retrospect of your present conflicts, you will be able to say, “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 [Note: 2Ti_4:7-8.].” Above all, think of the plaudit which in that day you will receive from your Lord and Saviour: “Well done, good and faithful servants; enter ye into the joy of your Lord.” It is but a little longer that you will have to fight. Soon shall you rest from all your conflicts and from all your labours, and enjoy the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.]