2Ti_2:7. Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee 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,
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:
[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 armour provided, even “the whole armour 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, yea, and must sustain many afflictions. For, where is there a Christian who has not “his cross to bear, whilst 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, till 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 perisheth,” in comparison of that which “endureth to everlasting life.” Every man must perform his duties in social and domestic life: but we must be “without carefulness:” and, whilst 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.]
[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.” St. 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 any thing. 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.]
[We all know that the husbandman prosecutes his labours 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 labours. 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 honour 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 that believeth, 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 labours, 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 labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.”]
Now then attend, I pray you, to,
The injunction given him in relation to them,
First, says the Apostle,
“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 husbandman, 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 fulfil them. Ministers, doubtless, are bound by the most solemn ties to “fulfil 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 honour of his name? It was well said by St. Paul, “I beseech you by the mercies of God that ye 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 recompence that awaits you. Look at the husbandman 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 labours 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 thou hast 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, ye 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 any thing can be too much for us either to do or suffer, in the prospect of such a recompence. Would you but consider these things as you ought, you would think that all the labours of the most devoted soldier, all the exertions of the most strenuous wrestler, and all the patience of the most laborious husbandman, are but faint representations of what may well be required at your hands.]
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, till 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, till 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 till then, “the light that is in us will be all darkness.” See the situations and circumstances to which St. 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 “fulfil 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.”]