James Nisbet Commentary - 1 Timothy 1:19 - 1:19

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James Nisbet Commentary - 1 Timothy 1:19 - 1:19

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This Chapter Verse Commentaries:


‘Holding faith, and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck.’


St. Paul explains to Timothy his object in writing to him—to encourage and stimulate him in the battle of life. In the responsibilities cast upon him; in the difficulties he will have to meet, let him be true to the high hopes formed of him. He points out—

I. Two conditions of mind and heart which must underlie all true and useful conduct.

(a) Faith. St. Paul speaks of faith in its widest sense, including faith towards God, and faith towards man and in man as made in God’s image and under His moral government.

(b) Conscience obeyed. Conscience is the voice of God within.

II. He states that these conditions may be given up.

(a) One may put away faith in God, doubt His love, give up belief in the perfection and holiness of His government. Men charge God with being partial, unkind, unjust. As a consequence they lose faith in humanity, in the possibilities of life, etc. Such a state leads to despair, antinomianism, rebellion.

(b) Conscience may be stifled, seared with a hot iron, but in the worst and most hardened criminal conscience remains, if as nothing else, as an accuser. But a good conscience may be put away. Oh, what a loss! It involves loss of self-respect, loss of faith in self, loss of power, loss of peace. Rejecting faith in God and disloyal to the voice within. How hard it is to sink so low! St. Paul uses a strong word—‘faith and a good conscience; which some having thrust from them’ (R.V.).

III. He speaks of the result which must inevitably follow.

(a) Shipwreck. In God’s moral government and in His revealed Word He has given us the rules for the voyage of life. But if one gives up faith in the Teacher, the chart is disregarded.

(b) Shipwreck concerning the faith. Though there be outward profession of Christianity, in heart and life it is shipwreck concerning Christ.

Let us be true to God and true to self.


‘Ah, if our souls but poise and swing

Like the compass in its brazen ring,

Ever level and ever true

To the toil and the task we have to do,

We shall sail securely, and safely reach

The Fortunate Isles.’—Longfellow.



In these words St. Paul is warning not only Timothy, but all clergymen after him; and not only these, but through them all Christian people, of a great truth, which was too much forgotten in those days, as it is too much forgotten in these days—that a correct faith and a good and holy life must go together in order to our salvation. ‘Holding faith’; there he speaks of having and keeping the right and true belief. ‘A good conscience’; and there he points to the need of holiness, without which we can have not a good but a bad conscience, because it will accuse us of our bad actions which we have done.

I. Many people see the need of one of these two things, and neglect the other.—There are many persons who approve of honesty and goodness in life, but do not think much of a right faith. They see it is good that a person should not steal, or commit murder, or live impurely. They would have every one live honestly and respectably; but (say they) that is all that is needed. What a man believes doesn’t much matter:

‘He can’t be wrong whose life is in the right.’

And there is a great deal that is very enticing and plausible about such teaching. But there is a mistake in it; and the mistake lies in making a right faith of small account. A true faith always tends to bring about good actions; and believing what is false inclines people somehow to do what is wrong. That is why St. Paul was so careful to teach Timothy, and through Timothy, the church over which he was set as a bishop, that they wanted both right faith and good life to keep their souls in the path to heaven.

II. Faith is the root of action.—What we do follows from what we believe, just as surely as a tree springs from its root. You could not get the fruit without the tree; you could not get the right fruit without its coming from the right tree; ‘a good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.’ And this people do not always see.

III. There is also a danger in the other direction; and therefore with faith he mentions ‘a good conscience.’ The danger is that, while holding fast the faith, we should be tempted to suppose that to believe is enough; that a holy life is not necessary, or at all events not essential, to salvation. This would be just as bad a mistake as the other, and as dangerous. The Catholic faith is intended to show you God in Christ; to reveal to you the Divine Saviour; and if you do not see Him in the Catholic faith, if your heart does not grow wise by its teaching, you may hold it indeed, but it will do you no good; it is useless through your own fault; and the mere holding it will not save you.