The Second Epistle To Timothy
Introductory Lectures On The Epistles Of Paul
Turning to the SECOND EPISTLE, we find that, although there is the same grand truth of the Saviour God maintained, the state of things had become sensibly worse, and the hour for the apostle's departure from the world was drawing near. Accordingly, there is a depth of feeling that one may safely say far exceeds the first epistle, although it had shown so much tenderness and care both for Timothy and the faithful of those days. But now there were other reasons for it, namely, that Christians were neglecting godliness and order. They had been long accustomed to the truth, and alas! human nature began to show itself out in indifference.
There was no longer the freshness of a new thing; and where the heart was not kept up in communion with the Lord, the value of divine things was less felt, if it did not quite fade away. Accordingly, in much grief of heart, the apostle writes to his tried and trembling child in the faith, and seeks to strengthen him, above all things not to be discouraged, and to make up his mind to endure hard things. "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, according to the promise." (2 Tim. 1: 1.) It is not "the commandment," as of authority, but "according to the promise of life which is in Christ Jesus." The crumbling away of everything here was before the apostle; and accordingly it is one of the peculiar features of this second epistle, that he brings out that which never can decay - which was before there was a world to dissolve - namely, that life which was in Christ Jesus before the world began.
Thus the apostle comes to the close of his ministry, and touches upon the line of St. John. There is no part of John's doctrine more strikingly characteristic than life in Christ. Now we see that when Paul was touching the confines of that difficult and most perilous moment when John was to be left alone, he brings out as his last note that very truth which John was to develop with special care and fulness. "To Timothy, my dearly-beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace, from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord. I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers," - what singular language this from Paul! How comes it so? Paul "the aged," as he says, was just about to leave this world. Activity of service was no longer before him. This he had known most extensively, but it was closed; no longer had he before him any prospect of having to fight the battles of the church of God. He had fought the good fight of faith. Others must do that kind of work in future. But now before his heart - just as in principle before the dying Lord Himself, wonderful to say - two things come together: a deeper sense of what is in God, as revealed in Christ Himself, before there was any creation at all; and on the other hand so much the deeper sense also of what could be owned in nature. Now these seem to many very difficult indeed to combine. They appear to think that if you hold life in Christ to be the one thing that is most precious, to be the prize that your heart reverts to, all owning of anything short of this would be out of place; but it is exactly the contrary. When the Lord was entering on His ministry He says, "Woman, what have I to do with thee?" But when dying upon the cross, He calls to John to behold His mother. We find a precisely similar kind of combination in Paul. Of course it was infinitely higher, it is needless to say, in the Master; but the servant was as closely as possible following in His steps.
It is beautiful to trace this double working and current of the apostle - that is, what is imperishable, above and beyond nature; and, along with this, the utmost value put on everything that he would own in those naturally bound up with him - those of either family that feared God. "I thank God, whom I serve from my forefathers, with pure conscience, that without ceasing I have remembrance of thee in my prayers night and day, greatly desiring to see thee, being mindful of thy tears." He had not said a word about them before. There was infirmity in the character of Timothy. There might be a mixture of timid shrinking from pain and shame. He was one that needed to lean on an arm stronger than his own. It was a part of his lot. Thus it was that God had made him: there was no use denying it. But the apostle at the same time owns, and loves to own, that which another might perhaps despise. There was no despising natural links or spiritual here, far from it.
Timothy, again, winced under trials, - too sensitive to slights, disappointments, and the manifold griefs that came upon him. But the apostle remembered it all, felt deeply for if not with him, and greatly desiring to see him once more. His own desire after going to the Lord did not prevent this, but the reverse: "that I may be filled with joy: when I call to remembrance the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois, and thy mother Eunice; and I am persuaded that in thee also." I refer to this just to remark that such links as these, which are connected with nature, all come before the apostle's mind, at the very moment when a spurious feeling would have judged it precisely the time to banish and forget them. There are persons who think that the approach of death is intended to blot out everything here. Not so the apostle Paul. In that large heart which weighed so justly and with single eye, there was a deepening feeling as to all that he saw around him; there was a realizing of the importance of things of which he had said not a word before. For him the light of eternity already shone strongly on present things, instead of taking him completely out of them. And this, I believe, is much to be considered.
"I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear" (it was what Timothy was manifesting), "but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord" (there must, I suppose, have been some ground for the exhortation), "nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel, according to the power of God; who hath saved us, and called us with an 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." Here we have him recurring to that which was entirely outside nature, and before its very platform existed. At the same time there is the carrying on his full notice of everything found here below that would be a source of comfort to one who anticipated the ruin of Christendom.
Afterwards he also speaks of his own work and of that which he was suffering. Instead of hiding either from Timothy, he points all out to him. He wants to accustom his mind to expect hardship instead of shirking it. He tells him further to "hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us." At the same time he shows also his sense of the kindness of a particular individual and his family. "The Lord give mercy unto the house of Onesiphorus; for he oft refreshed me, and was not ashamed of my chain; but, when. he was in Rome, he sought me out very diligently, and found me." It appears it was not merely in Rome. "The Lord grant unto him that he may find mercy of the Lord in that day." The same tone of mercy is equally promised in this #epistle as in the last. "And in how many things he ministered unto me at Ephesus, thou knowest very well."
In the second chapter he turns to another theme, he instructs and exhorts Timothy as to communicating (not authority, or status, or gift, but) truth to others. It is not a question here about elders, but what would abide all the same when elders could not be duly appointed. He is now looking at the state of disorder in the house of God, instead of contemplating it in its public integrity, as in the first epistle. There was a state of things coming when it would be impossible to have local charges chosen according to the full sanction which they had in apostolic days. Indeed it may be well to remark here, that we never read of Timothy appointing bishops or elders. Possibly he did appoint them; but there is no scriptural proof of it. Titus, we know, did so; but God took care that it should never be positively stated about Timothy. The peculiar task confided to the latter was care of doctrine much more than of outward order. As far as appointment went, Titus had a commission to establish elders in each city of Crete; but not so Timothy, as far as the inspired records speak.
"Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men." (2 Tim. 2: 1.) We must not be afraid of a manifest duty because it has been abused. There are those who shrink from helping on others in order to the work and doctrine of the Lord. This I cannot but consider as a proof of want of faith. What is a man well taught in the truth for, if not to communicate his knowledge to others that are faithful, but not equally instructed in the word of God? Surely if it is an urgent call to convey what we know of Christ and the truth to those that know nothing, it is a great privilege to help to contribute a greater knowledge of the truth to those that know little. The great thing is to do the will of God, let others say what they please; and so the apostle Paul exhorts Timothy. It is to be supposed that the younger labourer cowered somewhat, unwilling to incur the odious charge, so easily made but hard to refute, of setting himself up and taking the place of some great one. This might deter a sensitive saint from his duty. But, says the apostle, "be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus." This was to touch the right chord in his heart. Had the Lord Jesus not sent him? Why then yield to the enemy? Assuredly he would rejoice to scare Timothy from the field of serving Christ, and would shrink from no means to secure it.
"And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." He would not have him to be spreading doubtful opinions; but what he had heard from the apostle himself he need not scruple to give out freely. Let me remark, that there are comparatively few indeed that receive truth without help of others directly from God. A great many certainly flatter themselves that they are thus favoured; but the cases are uncommon where it is more than pretence. The fact is that God loves to make His children mutually dependent; and if we are only humble, there are very few saints from whom we may not derive some good, though not always in the same way. Nor do I at all see that any Christians should be above learning, if others can teach. At any rate the apostle presses this very strongly on Timothy. He was to communicate the things he had learnt of Paul, that they might be able to teach others also.
Next he comes to a more personal need. "Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ." To take pains and to endure are requisite even in what pertains to this life. "No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life" (he must be unencumbered, and undivided in his object); "that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully." He must take care of the manner in which he strives. And then again "the husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits." Rather he must "labour before he partake of the fruits." That is, he must first labour, and then partake of the fruits. God takes care of His people, and ensures them a blessed end. At the same time He will have them undividedly for Himself; and He is also jealous of the way in which they seek even the ends of God.
Then the apostle puts before them a blessed model of that which he had before his own soul. "Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things. Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel." This is a very striking word. For he does not say Jesus Christ simply in. His connection with the church, but "of the seed of David," the fulfiller of the promises, and object of the prophecies. Even if we look at Him so, He was raised from the dead. Resurrection is the form and character of the lowest blessings of which Jesus is the dispenser; much more is He risen to exalt God in the highest. Death and resurrection, then, are thus put before this servant of God; the more remarkably, because the point here is a practical and not a doctrinal question. He was to remember, then, "that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel: wherein I suffer trouble, as an evil-doer, even unto bonds; but the word of God is not bound." Paul suffered as he taught: a single eye to Christ and His grace made him consistent. "Put them in remembrance, charging them before the Lord that they strive not about words to no profit but to the subverting of the hearers. Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and vain babblings."
It was thus Paul treated the proud reasonings and speculations of man; withal briefly touching on those that had gone entirely astray - Hymenaeus and Philetus. It was not merely now that they had made their consciences bad and slipped away from faith. Their own word would eat as a canker, and do harm to others as well as to themselves, "who concerning the truth have erred, saying that the resurrection is past already; and overthrow the faith of some." This was to reverse the lesson of a risen Christ, and to open the way for all laxity. It was a kindred error, though in an opposite direction, to that which false teachers sought to infuse among the Thessalonians: there that the day of the Lord was come, producing panic; here that the resurrection was past, leading, to ease. The one was suited to upset the young, the other to beguile the old.
Then the apostle brings out most important directions for the days that were then coming in, but now come, and more. Questions are before him more serious than a maintenance of order. How are we to walk so as to please the Lord when disorder reigns, claiming to be the only true order? In a measure, no doubt, the truth is in Christendom, and only there; for one cannot look for the truth in Judaism or heathenism now. Judaism had its divine institutions and hopes, but the truth is found in Christendom only: nevertheless in Christendom, who fails to discern Jewish elements and heathenish enormities? How is a man to walk in such a state of things as this? In the former epistle, Timothy was told how to behave in the house of God, as yet in order; but now we are told how to behave in such a state of things as the present disorder. "The foundation of God standeth sure [or, the firm foundation of God standeth], having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his. And, let every one that nameth the name" - not of "Christ," but - "of the Lord depart from iniquity." I must do so, if I own Him only in the indispensable truth of His Lordship - if I own Him simply as the One that has authority over my soul. And a less confession than this God never permitted the church to accept; nor in fact in Jerusalem itself was less ever accepted than the naming the name of the Lord. God had made Jesus to be Lord and Christ, preached Peter on that day of power, when as yet much lay hid, and the great instrument of the revelation of the mystery was still shrouded in the darkness of midnight. But, if one confesses the name of the Lord, the word is imperative: "let him depart from iniquity." The disorder might be so great that we might make mistakes in our anxiety; but "The Lord knoweth them that are his." On the other hand, if a soul confesses the name of the Lord, he must have done with iniquity.
This of itself indicates that the epistle provides for a time when it is no longer simply a question of recognising persons coming out of the world. It is needful to exercise judgment now. One must try disorders and prove profession. Truth and holiness and endurance are wanted, not authority or outward order. Why cannot a man be as simple now as in apostolic times? Why not baptize at once every soul around? It would not be accordant with the mind of God. It is a duty in the present state of confusion to use scriptural means; and here we have our warrant, as in the epistles we find more. Whatever therefore may be right in certain cases, the assembly of God ought never to be forced to put every case on the same dead level - ought never to be bound by any special process, as if it were unalterable. The cause of this is the present confusion, and accordingly the apostle brings a picture of it before Timothy's mind.
"In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honour, and some to dishonour. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work." That is, it is not enough that I should walk with the Lord individually, but I must clear myself of association with that which is contrary to His name. Such is the meaning of purging himself. It is not the question of discipline - dealing With evil ways; but here we are in a state of things where we are in danger of being mixed up with vessels unto the Lord's dishonour. Nothing can sanction this. I am not at liberty of course to leave Christendom, I dare not get out of the great house at all; indeed I cannot (at any rate without becoming an apostate) leave the house of God, however bad its state may be. This is evidently not the true remedy - to abandon the confession of Christ: only an apostate could think of it. On the other hand, it is unholy to tamper with evil. Therefore it is incumbent for the Christian to look to this gravely, - never to be dragged by the fear of breaking unity into accrediting what dishonours the Lord. Now this is in particular a difficulty for saints, when they have revived before the soul the blessedness of maintaining the unity of the Spirit. It can never cease to be a Christian's duty to maintain the unity of the Spirit; but it is not maintaining the unity of the Spirit to couple with the name of the Lord that which is fleshly and sinful. It is well to be exclusive of sin, but of nothing else. It is well to maintain the largest heart for everything that is really of Christ. But we must exclude that which is contrary to His name; and the very same desire to prove one's love, one's faith, one's appreciation of Christ, will make one anxious not to be dragged into that which is not for His glory. "If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work."
But then another thing. He lets Timothy know that while he laid this on others, he must look carefully to his own ways. "Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace." It is not simply now to follow these, as urged in the first epistle (1 Tim. 6: 11); but he adds a most characteristic word in the second epistle. And this, I apprehend, is the reason. He forbad his going on in association with those that dishonour the Lord with vessels to dishonour; but he tells him to follow these things "with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart." Therefore, isolation is never desirable, though it may be sometimes necessary. But no man ought to separate himself from the children of God, unless it be a dire necessity for the Lord; it is clearly not according to Christ. It seems to me, I confess, that if there were simplicity of faith, the Lord would give one eyes to see some at least that call upon the Lord out of a pure heart.
Thus we have everything cared for here; the state of confusion is clearly depicted, as it then was beginning, and as results have proved yet more. How gracious of the Lord to point out the path for the saint, separate from that which grieves the Lord, yet enjoying all that He sees good for us of the privileges of Christianity! Otherwise this might have seemed to be (what unbelief taunts and stigmatizes it, spite of His sanction) pride of heart and presumption. And the comfort is that, if prepared to cleave to the will of the Lord alone, we shall have, through His grace, fellowship with the true-hearted. "Follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart. But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. And a servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle toward all, apt to teach, forbearing, in meekness correcting those that oppose, if perhaps God may give them repentance for acknowledgment of the truth, and they may for his will wake up out of the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him." This was always the becoming tone; but now it is imperiously necessary, as well as wise and good.
Then in 2 Timothy 3 he proceeds to show us not merely a picture of the condition that Christianity will fall into, but, besides, a state of things that would be produced by this confusion. Here we find the perilous times fairly brought before us. "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 pleasures more than lovers of God." Things are very much taking this direction of late, and at the present moment. Take what is called physical Christianity - a stupid, gross, and heathenish phrase, but just enough to show where people are drifting to. It answers not a little to the kind of thing set forth here. As we know, there may be over it all a certain form of godliness, but underneath it is really wickedness. This the apostle guards Timothy against, and indeed ourselves, he warns him how seduction would go on more and more, but "from such turn away." No matter what the reasons or excuses for joining with them, "turn away."
Then he points out the two principal guards for the faithful, in such a perilous state. The first is the moral character of the source or channel whence Timothy had derived what he knew.
"Thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, long-suffering, charity, patience, persecutions, afflictions."
It is the whole spiritual experience, so to speak, of the apostle. He was to continue in the things which he had learned, and had been assured of, knowing of whom he had learned them - a very important point. Persons sometimes say it does not matter who taught; but God does not treat the matter so lightly. It is often a very great safeguard for the saint of God; for, after all, it makes no small difference who says this or that. A word altogether unbecoming in one mouth might be most proper in another. The apostle well knew that the God who had brought these glorious truths to man, the God that had manifested His grace, had given a witness of their reality in the man from whom he had learned them; and this was meant to have an enduring effect on the conscience and heart of Timothy. For it is not dogma pure and simple, it is not mere instruction; and we may thank God for it. It is an immense blessing that we have the truth not only in a book, but in a practical shape, the truth that comes out of the heart and from the lips of living men of God. Accordingly the apostle reminds Timothy of this.
At the same time there is not the smallest slight of the only and abiding standard. He brings out the infinite value of the Scriptures, that is of what was written, the one transcendent resource for perilous times when we have not the presence and personal help of apostles. It is not merely what had been preached, but what is in a permanent shape for the good of the saints of God here below, which elicits the remarkable assertion of its peculiar worth. "Every scripture" - for this is the proper force of the passage - "Every 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, thoroughly furnished unto all good works."
The closing chapter (2 Tim. 4) then gives his solemn charge, and at the same time his own expression of what was before him. As Timothy was about to enter upon a new phase of his ministry, without the apostle's presence or living counsel, the latter charges him with great emphasis, "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." And the reason why he makes it so urgent not to be turned aside was, that the time would come when men would not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts they should heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; and they should turn away their ears from the truth, and should be turned unto fables. "But watch thou in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, make full proof of thy ministry. For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. 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." Thus he looks not to the coming of the Lord to receive him to Himself, but to the "appearing of the Lord," which is the usual side of the truth taken in these epistles. The reason is obvious. The coming of the Lord will in no way manifest the faithfulness of the servant; His appearing will. At "that day" will be the display of whatever has been endured, as well as done, for the Lord's sake.
With this prospect he comforts Timothy no less than his own spirit; but at the same time he speaks as to joining him, with a glance at one that had forsaken him. "Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens to Galatia, Titus unto Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me." He was comparatively alone. If he does not hide the sorrowful view of an old fellow-labourer's cooling in zeal, with all its dangers, the consolation is also before Timothy both of those that go on in faithful labour, and of one at least restored. "Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry." So we find that God knows how to temper the bitter with the sweet, always doing the right thing in the right place and time.
Thus he comforts Timothy at the same time that he admonishes him. In the midst of all, he is told to bring the cloak that he left at Troas with Carpus, and the books, but especially the parchments. This again has stumbled the minds of men. They cannot understand an inspired apostle talking about a cloak in the midst of a divinely given pastoral charge. The reason is manifest: they themselves savour of the things of men, and not of God. There is nothing that more shows God than His ability to combine that which is eternal with care for the smallest things of this life. It was not then an indifferent matter to God. The Holy Spirit would make it to be most practical and precious. Be assured, that if you do not bring the Spirit of God into these matters, perhaps your cloak, perhaps a book, will become a snare to you. To many a man and woman has a little bit of dress done no small injury, just because they think it is too little for the Spirit of God to direct them in. "The cloke," then says he, "that I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee, and the books," - not only the clothing, but even that which he is to read, - "especially the parchments;" - what he was going to write on, probably. "Alexander the coppersmith did me much evil: the Lord reward him according to his works: of whom be thou ware also; for he hath greatly withstood our words."
Finally, we have his assertion of the blessed Lord's care, and his confidence in Him that He would preserve him from all evil to His heavenly kingdom; closing this solemn and touching epistle (it would seem the last words he wrote) with salutations to various saints.