William Kelly Major Works Commentary
This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.2 Timothy Chapter 3
The word-disputes, the profane babblings, with greater impiety in the vista, the heterodoxy of some who said that the resurrection had taken place already, the great house becoming more and more characterized by vessels to dishonour, which made separation from them imperative, the foolish and uninstructed questionings which begat contentions, and whatever betrayed the snare of the devil, gave occasion to the solemn announcement with which chapter 3 opens: - "But this know, that in [the] last days grievous times shall be there" (ver. 1).
Let us weigh a little at length its import and bearing, as well as the general testimony of the New Testament; for as, on the one hand, no statement can well be more at issue with the prevalent judgment of mankind, and even with the cherished expectations of God's children in our days, so, on the other hand, next to fundamental truth individual and corporate, the just and true estimate of what is going on, and how it is to end - whether in progress toward triumphant blessing, or in course of the most humiliating and guilty declension from God to meet His unsparing judgment - is most momentous. Nor does scripture leave the least solid ground for doubt on the question. The difference morally is complete; for it affects the habitual aim of our labour and testimony, as well as the character of our intercourse with God, whether in or out of communion with His mind. Faith in our Lord and His work is no doubt the essential thing; but a mistaken expectation damages the soul indefinitely in proportion to its influence. It is the hope of a man which mainly determines his practical life. He is what his heart is set upon.
Now the scripture before us is most explicit. Difficult or grievous times were to set in; not "perilous" merely, as in the Authorized and all the older English versions, as well as the Rhemish (faithful to the Vulgate). The times are so characterized because of iniquity abounding under a fair Christian show, "a form of godliness" with a real denial of its power. Can one conceive of a state more repugnant to Him Who dwells in the assembly? or more pregnant with difficulty for a godly man to judge and in which act aright? He hates presumption, he seeks humility, he loves his brethren, he is bound to be faithful to Christ, and he cannot go on with evil, individual or collective. It is a strait of times truly for heart and conscience.
And this trying condition for the Christian is declared to ensue "in [the] last days." Winer (Greek Gr. N. T. iii. xix.) attempted to account for the omission of the article as usual, by setting it down as one of a most miscellaneous class of words which dispense with its insertion. One is surprised to see how easily men like Dean Alford and Bp. Ellicott are satisfied with an evasion so irrational and transparent. For that long list of words comes under the invariable principles of the language; and insertion of the article in each instance can be shown no less than omission; so that the statement of the case is not only partial, but misleading. The true solution is that Greek regularly, far more than English, exhibits the anarthrous form when the design is to designate a characteristic state rather than a positive fact, place, condition, person, or date. The article here would have made the period too restricted; its absence enlarges the sphere, as the Holy Spirit intended, Who knew the end from the beginning. We in our tongue can hardly avoid saying, "The last days"; but the Greek could express himself more accurately than those who are compelled to use the same expression for what may be less or more definite.
The phrase plainly covers the closing days of the Christian economy, however long God may be pleased to protract them, the time generally which precedes the coming of the Lord, when an end will be put to the present ways of God, and the kingdom will come in displayed power and glory. Waterland's suggestion of "at the end of the Jewish state" is as he puts it a mistake*; for it is at the approaching end of the Christian profession, as well as of the Jewish. If the Jews believe not yet, Christians ought to be expecting the return of the kingdom to Israel in God's due time, when our Lord appears to receive the homage and blessing of the godly remnant, about to become thenceforth a strong as well as holy nation, His first-born son elect here below. But as there were incipient workings of the evil already apparent to Him Who inspired Paul to write thus to Timothy, we can the better feel how much more correct is the anarthrous construction employed, than if the insertion had fixed it exclusively to the days immediately preceding our Lord's future advent.
* Rightly understood, the judgment of Israel, of the Gentiles and of Christendom takes place about the same time in the consummation of the age, as our Lord shows in Matt. 24, 25; and to this agree Genesis 49:1; Numbers 24:14; Deuteronomy 4:30; Deuteronomy 31:29, Job 19:25; Isaiah 2:2 Ezekiel 38:16, Daniel 2:28, Daniel 10:14, Daniel 12:13, Micah 4:1, in all of these passages the "latter" or "last days" are foretold.
In the preceding Epistle (1 Timothy 4:1-3) a prophetic warning had been given, but of evil quite distinct in time, character, and extent, from what we have here. Instead of "last days", the Spirit spoke expressly of later, or after, times, i.e., times subsequent to the apostle's writing. Instead of a widespread condition of "men" in Christendom, he there spoke of "some" only. The language suits and supposes but few comparatively; which only controversial zeal could have overlooked or converted into a prediction of the vast if not worse inroad of Romanism. It is a description of certain ones to depart from the faith into fleshly asceticism, paying heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of demons, in the hypocrisy of liars branded in their own conscience, forbidding to marry, [bidding] to abstain from meats which God created to be received thankfully. This was a high-flown abuse of grace to deny the creature, and to dislocate the God of grace from the God of creation and law; but the followers are carefully discriminated from the more daring and corrupt misleaders. Gnosticism is the real evil aimed at, even then beginning to work, as we may gather from 1 Timothy 6:20 in the same communication to Timothy. But limited as it stands in the word, and as it became in fact, it discloses how the Spirit of God guards us, if we heed scripture, from anticipating victory for the gospel, and how He rather prepares us for defection to God's dishonour.
But in 2 Timothy 3:1 the view is a larger field, not of course to the exclusion of faithful and godly souls, where the eye traverses a general state of decadence from the power of grace and truth, where, as we shall see when we come to the scrutiny of details, those that bear the name of the Lord, and are therefore responsible to walk as dead unto sin and alive unto God in Christ Jesus our Lord, return as a general description to what the Gentiles were before they heard and professed to believe the gospel. It is the counterpart of the great house in 2 Timothy 2:20, wherein are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also wooden and earthenware, and some to honour, and some to dishonour. Here, however, we have, not a symbolic figure, but a plain matter-of-fact account of a return to heathenism practically. Even the Corinthians, low as they had sunk, are reproached by the apostle with carnality and with walking "as men", instead of as children of God in the power of the Spirit Who dwelt in them. Here those spoken of are "men", with the guilt of indifference to, and repudiation of, all the savour of Christianity, while still retaining its form. From such, however little developed then, Timothy was called to turn away: how much more, when all is out in the full display of evil, should a faithful man turn away now?
Yet 2 Thess. 2: gives us to descry very far worse at hand. We ought not to be deceived in any manner, whatever the success of false teachers with some of the Thessalonian saints so young in the faith as they were. We know that the Lord is coming Who will gather us together, sleeping or alive, unto Himself, and therefore we need not be quickly shaken in mind, nor yet troubled by any power or means, to the effect that the day of the Lord is present. We know that it cannot be unless first there have come "the apostasy" - not a falling away, as substantially in all the well-known English Versions as well as the Authorized. It is not "discencioun" (Wiclif), nor "a departynge" (Tyndale), as Cranmer's Bible repeats in 1539, and the Geneva in 1557, nor "a revolt", as in the Rhemish of 1582. It is "the apostasy", and nothing else: worse there cannot be, unless it be the person who is its final head in direct antagonism to God and His anointed, the man of sin, the son of perdition, whom the Lord Jesus will consume with the Spirit of His mouth and destroy with the manifestation of His presence.
"The apostasy" is a general state though one is far from denying that there will be even then godly ones, some to suffer unto death, and acquire a heavenly degree, and others to escape for ulterior purposes of divine blessing and glory here below. But the apostasy means Christianity abandoned, and witness for God put down all but universally, in the sphere of Christian profession. Now this is the state, issuing in the boldest claim ever to be made on earth of Messianic place and divine glory, which immediately precedes the shining forth of the Lord Jesus from heaven, allotting vengeance to those who know not God (Gentiles), and to those who obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus (Jews).
Here we carry on the clear, harmonious, and ever accumulating proof that the Holy Spirit thus far bears witness, not of increasing good and ultimate earthly triumph for the gospel and the church here below, but (whatever the gracious and active work of God ordinarily, and especially at certain great epochs of blessing) of evil growing and irremediable generally, till at last it sinks so low that the mass abandon even the name and form of Christian profession in the apostasy; and the Antichrist, the last head of towering hostility to God, rises so high that the Lord appears from heaven with the angels of His power, and in flaming fire, to exact as penalty everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His might. The expectation of good prevailing over the world as the result of human means before the Lord appears is not only a dream of vanity, but that which reverses the awful picture which scripture presents of things becoming worse beyond example and imperatively calling for divine judgment, after which only is the knowledge of Jehovah to cover the earth as the waters cover the sea
The Lord indeed had already decided the question both parabolically and prophetically. For what is the instruction as to this of the wheat field in Matthew 13:24-30; Mat 13:36-43? While men slept, the enemy of him who sowed good seed in his field sowed darner there; and the mischief done from early days was irremediable by man: only divine judgment can deal with it aright. Now the field is the world under the kingdom of the heavens, the Son of man being exalted, and the devil His enemy, who insinuates fatal mischief, legality, ritualism, gnosticism, asceticism, heresy, antichrists, Romanism or Babylon, and other evils, through his sons; all which causes of stumbling or offence cannot be got rid of till the Son of man shall send His angels in the completion of the age (not "the end of the world", which altogether misleads, for "the age" closes more than a thousand years before "the world").
Hence it irresistibly follows that the Lord predicts the continuance of hopelessly prevalent evil within the sphere of Christian profession till in the consummation of the age, He employ His angels to execute judgment on the quick, and diabolical and all other evils are thus cleared out of His kingdom, while the righteous shine forth in the kingdom of their Father. For all things are to be headed or summed up in Christ, the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth - in Him in Whom also we obtained an inheritance, being heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ (not His mere inheritance like Israel here below) (Ephesians 1:10-11; Romans 8:17). The notion of good reigning in the world at any time under the gospel or the church, is as false as that righteousness shall not reign when He takes the kingdom in manifest glory over the earth, and the new age begins long before eternity in the full sense of a new heaven and a new earth. No wonder therefore that we read of grievous times in the last days which precede wrath from heaven.
And what again did the Lord intimate of the moral state before the Son of man comes in His day, to speak only of His prophecy in Luke 17:22-37? "And as it came to pass in the days of Noah, even so shall it be also in the days of the Son of man. They ate, they drank, they married, they were given in marriage, until the day Noah entered into the ark and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise even as it came to pass in the days of Lot; they ate, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but in the day that Lot went out of Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all: after the same manner shall it be in the day that the Son of man is revealed."
It is clear that the Lord compares the state of men (careless, selfish, godless, guilty, dead also to what He, the rejected Messiah, had suffered for their sake) to that which brought on the two most solemn judgments which Genesis records at the deluge and at the destruction of Sodom by fire. Will the revelation of the Son of man in His day be less righteously called for? No; the last days of the Christian era are to be times of excessive, abounding, and audacious lawlessness as well as impiety, when longer patience on God's part is impossible, and the time is arrived in His counsels for displacing the first man of sin, weakness, and shame by the Second, exalted over all creation in visible power and glory on His own throne, as He is now in heaven on the Father's throne.
It is notorious that theologians are not found wanting - indeed their name is Legion - to blunt the sword in their hands by misapplying our Saviour's words, some to the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus, others to the end of the world when the Lord sits on the great white throne. One representative man, who need not be named, as remarkable for the splendour of his oratory as alas! for the deadly error against Christ's person into which he was betrayed, sought to comprehend with these two events the Lord's appearing in the judgment of the quick. But scripture is not thus limber and indefinite, as falsehood loves to make it, but living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword. It cuts on one side and guards on the other, as is evident in this instance, where the nice discrimination between the two men and the two women (Luke 17:34-35) respectively is incompatible with either the ruthless slaughter of the Romans, or the universal standing of all the dead to be judged at the end. The judgment of the quick at the Lord's appearing will be in truth as sudden and vivid "as the lightning, when it lighteneth out of the one part under heaven, shineth unto the other part under heaven." This applies in no way to Titus' invasion, which notoriously allowed the believing Jews to escape, as even Luke 21:20-24 distinguishes it carefully from the Son of man coming afterwards on a cloud with power and great glory. To confound the latter, like Luke 17:22-37, with Titus' sack, is no true exegesis, but abject and unmistakable confusion; and so it is with the wholly contrasted circumstances of Revelation 20:11-15, when there will be no question of returning to home or field, no difference at the bed or the mill. The Lord here refers exclusively to the day of His appearing to judge living man on the earth, and the Jews especially; and His words leave no room for progress in good but in evil before that day.
The personal followers and inspired servants of our Lord do not speak differently. Because of prevalent evil, corruption, and violence, James exhorts, "Have patience therefore, brethren, till the coming of the Lord . . . "Behold, the Judge standeth before the door" (Jam 5:7; Jam 5:9). They were therefore to take, as an example of suffering and of having patience, the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. It was not to be a time of triumph for right outwardly till the Lord come. The days were evil, the last days grievous times. Those who endured we call blessed. This is the very reverse of righteousness at ease and in present honour.
Peter, in his Second Epistle especially, is still more explicit: "There arose false prophets also among the people, as there shall be also among you false teachers, who shall privily bring in heresies of destruction, denying even the Master that bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction" (2 Peter 2:1). The evil characteristics, with solemn warning, are set forth at length throughout chapter 2; and in 2 Peter 3:3-4, Peter adds that "in the last of the days, mockers shall come with mockery, walking according to their own lusts, and saying, Where is the promise of his coming? for from the day that the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of the creation." Even now, materialism and mockery prevail among men of the world surprisingly; still more according to the apostle will they be stamped just before the day of the Lord. There is wondrous long-suffering of God in saving even such; but the day will surely come with condign vengeance on Christendom, thus drinking itself drunk on the basest dregs of positivism and impious raillery. Grievous times then in the last days!
Jude, brother of James, depicts the evil in colours darker if possible than Peter; for he in the Spirit fastens his eyes, not merely on the unrighteousness to prevail as the time of the world's judgment draws near, but on thankless apostasy from the highest privileges of divine goodness, "turning the grace of our God into dissoluteness, and denying our only Master and Lord Jesus Christ" (ver. 4). Nothing can be more tremendous than this short Epistle as a whole, nothing plainer than his identifying those before the eyes of the saints as just the class of whom Enoch prophesied as objects of the Lord's judgment: "But ye, beloved, remember the words spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they said to you, that at the end of the time there should be mockers walking according to their own lusts of ungodliness" (vers. 17, 18). Can anything be more certain than that this holy witness warns of grievous times in the last days? To be set with exultation blameless before the divine glory at Christ's coming is the hope, not the church nor the gospel triumphing on the earth previously.
There remains but one more to cite; and "the disciple whom Jesus loved" writes with at least equal plainness of speech: "Little children, it is the last hour, and as ye heard that antichrist cometh, even now have come many antichrists, whence we know that it is the last hour" (1 John 2:18). This is assuredly incontrovertible. The antichrist will be the chief object of the Lord's consuming and annulling judgment when He shines forth in His day; but the many antichrists even then doing their destructive and malignant work proceed without a break, till the judgment He will execute clears the scene for the reign of righteousness and peace. It is not that grace meanwhile does not save and associate with Christ on high. For "as is the Heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly; and as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the Heavenly" (1 Corinthians 15:48-49). The cross morally closed the hope and history of the earth in relation to God, the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven giving a final appeal: this rejected, all henceforth is bound up with Christ in and for heaven, to which the gospel calls all who now believe. And the world, and especially the world-church Babylon, becomes the object of God's judgment to be executed by the Lord when He appears, as we have shown by overflowing but not yet exhausted testimony. It is when the iniquity is full that the blow falls. The times are grievous now, how much more so before that day?
We have now to enter on the detailed examination of the evil characters which the apostle points out as impressing on the last days the stamp of "grievous times". The first and last words are remarkably and painfully instructive. It is Christendom which comes before us; yet those bearing the Lord's name can only be designated as "men", morally as corrupt and violent as the heathen (compare Romans 1:29-31), if not so gross, yet having a form of godliness while they have denied its power.
"For men shall be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, haughty, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, uncontrolled, fierce, haters of good, traitors, headstrong, puffed up, pleasure-lovers rather than God-lovers, having a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof; and from these turn away" (vers. 2-5).
If the Holy Spirit has thus minutely qualified the evils which render the times grievous, to me it does not seem reverent to pass them over sicco pede,* as if His designations were either intelligible on the surface, or unworthy of deep meditation for our better profit. Far more to be admired than this levity of the Genevese Reformer is the spirit of one in our own day who devoted an entire treatise to the laudable endeavour that we should learn what the apostle would have Timothy to know; and the rather, as the days in which we live display in a far more developed degree the dark features, which in the germ were even of old coming to view.
* Sicco pede means dry-footed, that is, passing on without wading in to solve the difficulties.
The apostle had laid down other things of prime importance; but Timothy was "to know this also", and assuredly we know imperfectly what we only apprehend in a dim and hazy light. He who writes to us with the utmost precision would have us read and study with attention. The practical duty ("and from these turn away"), can be but imperfectly discharged if we are not clear who and what the characters are whom one is thus called to have done with. We are bound so to discern, not in one case only, but in each and all, that there be no mistake. If charity may plead, holiness and obedience are imperative, and especially with such as may fairly be charged, in measure like Timothy, with care for sound doctrine, and order, and godliness.
"For men shall be lovers of self." Such is the opening characteristic, so grievous to the Lord and His own in those bearing His name. Justly does it hold the first place in this list of Christ-dishonouring professors; for it is a very mother of evils, as it directly contravenes the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning His children. Christ died for all indeed; but the moral end was that those who live (whatever others do who remain dead) "should henceforth not live unto themselves, but unto Him Who for them died and rose again" (2 Corinthians 5:15). "A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I loved you, that ye also love one another. By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another" (John 13:34-35). For "every one that loveth Him that begat loveth him also that is begotten of Him. By this we know that we love the children of God when we love God and keep His commandments, and His commandments are not grievous" (1 John 5:1-3).
Thus, loving God proves that we truly love His children;, as obeying His commands proves that we truly love God. So the first condition of discipleship, if we hear our Lord (Matthew 16:24, Mark 8:34), is denying self, the clean contrary of loving it. Oh, what a pattern in Him Who, though He was rich, yet for our sakes became poor that we through His poverty might become rich! Fully do I admit that such love as we are called to is not the original unfallen condition of Adam, still less of course the hateful and hating state of man now; it is what we see and know in the Second Man, the last Adam; it is to be imitators of God, as dear children, and to walk in love as the Christ also loved us and gave Himself for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God of a sweet-smelling savour (Ephesians 5:1-2). As having put on the new man and sealed with the Holy Spirit of God, no other standard could be set before us; in awful contrast with which stand lovers of self, and so much the more sadly, if baptized to Christ's name and death.
Say not that self reigns only outside among the profane; show me where it does not reign among true believers throughout Christendom. The world loves its own, says the Lord: is this as true of His members scattered as they are in parties, national and dissenting, each the rival of the other? And this false position with its isolating effect has told powerfully on souls to wither all true sense of unity on earth, and to hold out mere progress of party, or at best labour for individual blessing instead of the glory of Christ in the church which is His body.
Next, they shall be "lovers of money." Let believers hear the judgment of one who scanned their ways not untruly, though with no friendly eyes: "As far as we are enabled to discover, they testify no refusal to follow the footsteps of the worldly in the road to wealth. We look in vain for any distinguishing mark in this respect between the two classes of society, That which is 'of the world,' and that which is 'not of the world.' All appear to be actuated by the same impulse to push their fortunes in life; all exhibit the same ardent, active, enterprising, zeal in their respective pursuits."
Can any serious person deny the enormous impetus given to the love of money in our own days; and this, among those who profess the Lord's name as keenly and commonly as in the careless world? Doubtless, as has been remarked, the recent discoveries of fresh sources of wealth, and the remarkable inventions of men, and the habits of far-spread enterprise, not to speak of growing luxury, which have followed in the train, have helped on this eager quest of gain. But the fact is unquestionable, and the effect most mischievous; yet who lays it to heart, or judges it as a sin of the first magnitude? And has it not been accelerated and justified by that new and increasing peculiarity of the last (eighteenth) century, those religious and philanthropic institutions, the offspring and the pride of ecclesiastical divisions, which avowedly depend on the collections, and subscriptions, and donations, of money? Certainly our Lord has ruled otherwise in the Sermon on the Mount, and His inspired servants have both acted and written for our admonition in terms meant to make the service of mammon intolerable, and to refuse a place in the church for the covetous.
"Boasters" follow; and who fails to hear its hollow voice to-day? It follows as close on the track of money-loving, as this love on self-love. And the materials which furnished the means of gratifying the love of money have built up the pedestal from which the empty vaunts of the boasters are heard on all sides. If you doubt it of religious profession, your ears are assuredly dull of hearing, and your eyes, It seem", see not. For all is blazoned before the world, whether of religious contributions, or of charity to the poor, or aught else that occupies men publicly.
And then this enlightened age of ours! Who does not sing its achievements? Who does not praise its science physical if not metaphysical, its chemistry if not its learning? Say not again that these boasters are the mere devotees of natural philosophy. Alas! it is from professedly pious theologians that we hear the hasty and ignorant premises that Geology declares one thing, Genesis another; and the base conclusion is that Genesis must bow down and worship Geology at what time is heard the sound of cornet, flute, harp, sackbut, psaltery, dulcimer, and all kinds of music! For the spirit of vain glory has banished all sense of pain and shame when God's word is thus dishonoured; and even those who preach it are not ashamed to swell the chorus of the "boasters".
Can one wonder that we have "haughty" next? They present an evil more deeply seated than the "boasters", though not so loud in its vain expression. They are the proud against whom God ranges Himself; the most akin to Satan's fault; the most alien from the mind which is in Christ Jesus, Who, being in the form of God, counted it not a prize to be on equality with God, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bondman, being made in the likeness of men, and, being found in fashion as a man, humbled Himself, becoming obedient unto death, yea, death of the cross (Php 2:5-8). Thus it is that appreciation of Christ is our only sure and holy deliverance; for pride hides itself under so many veils, which may deceive itself as much as others, and none more than the mere professor or even the real Christian who walks with the world. Grace gives true lowliness, which consists not so much in thinking all the evil we can of ourselves as in thinking of Christ and not of ourselves at all. When we have seen Him, as He is, we can see ourselves not worth thinking of, save before God to judge our ways when faulty. We can then, readily and without effort, each esteem the other as more excellent than ourselves, regarding each not his own things but each those of others. Is it possible to draw a sketch more unlike what prevails in Christendom? "Proud" or "haughty" is the truest designation of the type that abounds.
Then come "blasphemers" and "disobedient to parents", which fittingly fall next and in due order and together. For self-exaltation paves the way for unworthy thoughts and slighting words against God, and self-will against parental authority is the natural result. Some greatly to be respected for their spiritual judgment understood the first of the pair to mean "evil speakers" in general. But this appears to be out of harmony, not only with its companion, but with "slanderers" in verse 3, which it would thus render an almost needless repetition. "Blasphemers" would therefore seem to be right here, as it is the natural and full force of the word, unless the requirements of the context should tone it down, as is sometimes the unquestionable fact.
Further, it is the liberalism of the day which has given occasion to the unprecedented spread of blasphemy on the one hand, and of disobedience to parents on the other. For it is now more and more accepted, that authority - and above all, divine authority - is nothing but the bugbear of unenlightened ages, and that there is no inflexible standard of truth and righteousness! Thus public opinion assumes to decide, and society becomes the supreme power on earth, with its ordinances (i.e. the laws and the commands of magistrates, who act in the name and for the welfare of the society!) binding on all its members, but not authorizing one national society to govern another, still less entitling its officers to rule contrary to the will of the society, or to exercise greater power than it pleases!
I have purposely adopted the ideas and words of an able, learned, and pious advocate of this impious scheme, which contradicts all that the godly in the past have gathered from scripture, especially such passages as Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-18. On the texts there is the less reason to dwell as almost all who read these pages reject on principle that wretched fruit of the French Revolution, or rather of the infidel philosophy which gave so deep and strong an impulse to it, not only immediately, but also from our own land for a century before. Blasphemers began to assert their lawless will, not without the reproof of public law and to the horror of believing ears. But gradually restraint gave way, and men have got to think that every form of blasphemous iniquity, which can count so many heads, is entitled to its representation in the high places of the earth. For after all what the Christian calls blasphemy is the religion or school of thought sincerely accepted by others, who are no less entitled to be heard as themselves, and to rule if they can command a majority! For, again says their pious oracle, what human power can pronounce authoritatively upon the truth of a religion, when every nation, or part of a nation, will with equal zeal maintain the truth of its own? Thus God is excluded, where He is most of all needed, and the creature, in all the aberrations of his guilty will, is worshipped rather than the Creator, Who is blessed for ever. Amen.
As indifference to blasphemers, nay, the right to plead the cause of their party, is now the order of the day, so religious men, nationalist and dissenting, seek their support, making common cause with these open enemies of God and His Son, in order to promote their party measures and political ends. All the old hatred of blasphemy, all the once burning indignation against daring impiety, has well-nigh disappeared from Christendom, yea, is treated by the diabolically spurious charity of our times as no less effete, disreputable, and cruel, than the burning of witches, the prosecution of necromancers, or the denunciation of astrologers. You may not libel a man; his character is sacred and of the utmost importance. Say what you like of God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit; if you will, denounce Their ways and character; deny Their being; defame divine revelation. It is your right as a man to say what you think of God or His word, of Christ or His cross! Never before this nineteenth century has the world seen such unlimited licence to blaspheme; and nowhere is it more rampant and shameless than in Christendom, Catholic and Protestant. Who can doubt then that "blasphemers" characterize the grievous times in the last days? or that they are already have in a most aggravated form?
And surely the marked and growing lack of reverence to parents, the increasing self-will of the young, cannot have escaped the notice of any observing Christian. So this was to be, according to the warning of inspiration. "Disobedient to parents" follows "blasphemers"; and most suitably as to order; for parents stand in a position altogether unique toward their children. As it is written in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 12:9-10), "Furthermore, we had the fathers of our flesh to chasten us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of spirits, and live? For they verily for a few days chastened as seemed good to them; but He for profit in order to our partaking of His holiness." If not God but forms are in men's thoughts, real obedience of a parent is nowhere; submission is only where it is unavoidable; where then is the conscientious and loving heart to pay honour and obedience?
And the most serious element in this general ruin of so primary a relationship is that the parents are as much or more to blame than the children, the mothers no less than the fathers; and this neglect is confined and peculiar to no class, but is pervading every grade of the race. The multitude of societies and devices to care for the young in our day is not the least striking proof of the plague which has set in permanently; for the appalling growth of the evil called out the efforts of pious men to stem it, however superficially, by the Sunday Schools, Homes, Reformatories, and such like. And now they would fain forget the frightful root of this evil in their own class and in every other, glorifying their benevolence in so partial a remedy. Relaxation of discipline, or even its abandonment, on the parents' part cannot but breed disobedience in the children; and in the face of such a prevalent snare, all other means of correction are but the feeblest reeds to avert a gathering storm.
Nor should we overlook the next pair of humiliating characters in these last days: "unthankful, unholy". These appear to be as appropriately set together as their two predecessors were, and indeed all those described hitherto: not that those who read them unconnectedly do not glean instruction from each and all, but that the observance of them jointly gives order, and adds to the harvest. Now what an anomaly is a professing Christian who is thankless! He professes to have life in Christ, and the forgiveness of sins; he is baptized to Christ's death whereby he died with Him to sin; he is under grace, not under law, that sin should not have dominion over him; he is in Christ and so freed from condemnation, and has received the Spirit of adoption whereby to cry Abba, Father. For if any man has not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His. All this individually belongs to the believer. Think next of the precious privileges he enjoys as being of the body of Christ, in the worship, in the apostolic doctrine, in the fellowship, in the breaking of bread, in the prayers; not to speak of that holy and wholesome and most needful discipline which attaches inseparably to those who keep the feast on the sacrifice of Christ. But why need one set out these countless blessings which all saints share in His Name and by the Spirit of our God with which scripture seems? To be "unthankful" then, while bearing that Name which ensures all to the believer, is the extreme of ingratitude.
"Unholy", or impious, naturally and one may say necessarily, follows at once. For thankfulness cannot but be where the heart dwells ever so little on those precious and exceeding great promises, now made sure in our Lord and enjoyed in the power of the Holy Spirit, whilst we wait for glory unfading and eternal, of which He Who has sealed us is earnest. To profess what we believe not is to play the hypocrite; and if we can speak of natural honesty remaining under a Christian mask, indifference to reality and familiarity with forms both contribute to bring about that contempt of the Holy One, Who is trifled with, and of all that pertains to His service, worship, and will, which constitute the character of the "unholy".
The fact too that the word designating "holy" here is not ἅדיןς (separate from evil to God), but ὅףיןς (holy in the sense of gracious and merciful), shows yet more how one is justified in classing "unholy" with "unthankful". For grace unfelt soon ends in grace despised, scorned, and trampled on: the consequence of unthankfulness is unholiness, a profanity in this kind.
Christ is He Who concentrates all grace, and is thus designated "chasid" (Ps. 16; Ps. 89; etc.), as men so described are regarded as piously upright. The reverse of this is intended here, and perhaps even these few words suffice to show how true of Christian professors in our day is this apostolic description. It is not merely the lack of gracious affections, proper to those whose profession implies God's mercy in Christ, but the impious presumption that stands in direct opposition. It is a question neither of injustice nor of impurity.
We have now to examine a still more numerous list of qualities that follow: - "Without natural affection, implacable, slanderers, uncontrolled, fierce, without love (haters) of good, traitors, headstrong, puffed up, pleasure-loving rather than God-loving, having a form of godliness (piety), but having denied the power thereof; and from these turn away" (vers. 3-5).
It is singular that the Authorized Version, alone of the old English translations, gives the simple, full, and unambiguous meaning of ἄףפןסדןι; which in Wiclif's Version and the Rhemish, following the Vulgate as usual, is rendered by the feebler phrase "without affection". Tyndale, followed by Cranmer, has "unkinde", as the Geneva "without charitie". But beyond controversy these representatives lack precision of rendering.
Now, as to the characteristic itself, it is hard to exaggerate its gravity even among mere natural men: how much more among those who bear the Lord's name! For there is no human centre and safeguard greater than home with its manifold affections and the duties which it involves. The light and the grace of Christ truly known give strength as well as provide a new object which puts each element in its true relation to God and man. There may be occasions peremptory for His glory that all must yield, and then the things that are become as though they were not, rather than turn to His dishonour; but such cases are rare, and His name ordinarily adds beyond measure to all that God has ever owned as His order here below. But here we learn of a dark and ominous change when Christendom in general not only exhibits indifference to all these ties of family life, but tramples them down as contemptible and would rid itself of them as unworthy nuisances. It affects cosmopolitanism as the true ideal, and as this is wholly unreal and inoperative, the issue is unmitigated selfishness, a barren waste without objects given of God for the heart, where self-will can run riot according to its own waywardness.
Very suitably next to this void of natural affection stands the quality "implacable", which, springing from the same root of selfishness, flows into a far larger circle and indeed one without limit. Some few authorities of all kinds invert their relative order; but this would seem strange disorder morally, compared with the true place of each as represented by the best witnesses, though the Sinaitic is not alone in omitting the first of the pair, nor the Peschito Syr. Version in dropping both: all these variations being plain errata. For as the lack of natural affection is a horrible result of spurious Christian profession, so the consequent but wider implacability is next pointed out as its companion, instead of that universal love which is loudest in theory when there is least exercise of it in practice. Nay, the fact is really worse; for ἄףנןםהןי goes beyond the breaking of truce attributed to the word in the Authorized Version and other translations, and expresses rather the lawless state which refuses to incur any such obligation. It is bad enough to fail in keeping faith; it is much worse as here when men's hearts say, "Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us" (Psalm 2:3).
In Romans 1:31 we read that God gave up the heathen to be ἀףץםטέפןץע, ἀףפόסדןץς, as the Text. Rec. adds ἀףנόהןץς against ample authority of the highest character. There the apostle comes from the more external "covenant-breakers", or (more generally) "faithless", to the want of family affection (ἀףפόסדןץς) and the more personal "unmerciful", or pitiless; here as predicting the departure of Christendom he goes from within outwards; only for "covenant-breakers" he gives "implacable" or defiant of bond. And what spiritual eye can fail to see how this impatience of obligation permeates men, who once were rigidly faithful in the observance not of promise only but of all the implied ties of the life that now is? Nothing dissolves more than grace despised; whereas even law is feebleness itself compared with grace reigning through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Optimi corruptio pessima.*
* (The corruption of good is the worst form of evil.)
Then in joint order comes the character of "slanderers", or "false accusers", as in the Authorized Version, the same designation as is appropriated to the arch-enemy, the devil. Is it not a solemn issue that the Holy Spirit should have thus to describe not mere heathen, but men bearing the Lord's name in the last days, It is easy to dissipate and whittle away the awfulness of these charges by the plea so natural for ignorance to make and to receive, that these evil characteristics have always been. In a sense it is so. But the word of the Lord cannot be broken; and, though enough rose up while the apostle lived to make it a practical question then, it is certainly true that, as the departure from the word and Spirit of God went on, these evils grew and spread apace; and that our own days look on an enormous increase of this harvest of shame and sorrow, which all the changes rung on Ecclesiastes 7:10 are vain to get rid of.
The universality of detraction and evil-speaking is as notorious in our day as is its virulence, and far worse in the religious than in the profane world, the endless divisions or sects giving it an incalculable impulse. Moral worth, Christian character, spiritual intelligence, known service, perhaps for ever so long, wholly fail to disarm malicious criticism, if they do not rather furnish the incentive to activity for those moral levellers envious of all superior to themselves. It is the more base in those cases where the assailed would avail themselves of no natural resource, offensive or even defensive, following Him Who, when reviled, reviled not again, when suffering, threatened not, but committed Himself to His care Who judges righteously (1 Peter 2:13).
"Uncontrolled" we have next, rather than "incontinent", which usage limits to lack of self-restraint in uncleanliness, whereas the word really takes the fullest range in the indulgence of recklessness of action, as the preceding word does in spirit and speech; so that the moral connection is evident.
This again seems the unforced precursor of "fierce", without gentleness, and despising it, yea, is its marked reverse. How heart-breaking to know that so it is, as the Holy Spirit declared it should be, among those who profess His name Who said in the fulness of truth, "Take My yoke upon you, and learn of He; for I am meek and lowly in heart" (Matthew 11:29); or as Isaiah said of Him, "He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause His voice to be heard in the street" (Isa. 42: 29). But there alas! they walk, as if to suffer, and above all to suffer wrongfully, were the utmost evil to be dreaded, and as if Christ in His path of trial and rejection and all-enduring grace were a beacon to shun rather than a model that we should follow in His steps. Civilisation boasts of its long and gradual rising up from a savage state, which certainly was not that of primeval man, nor of man under God's government throughout the ages. It is therefore most humbling to note the fall into a truly savage spirit of man after centuries not of civilization only but of Christian profession.
None can wonder that this is followed by "without love for (haters of) good", which appears more exactly and completely to represent ἀציכάדבטןι than "despisers of those that are good", as in the Authorized Version. It is indeed a very decisive advance in evil; for many, whose unbroken will carries them away passionately, are sincerely ashamed of their intemperance and deplore the excesses of these short fits of madness, as they value and admire those who in patient continuance of good work seek for glory and honour and incorruption, with eternal life - the end (Romans 2:7). A heathen could say, I see and approve of what is better, I follow the worse; and an apostle gives as the last degree of evil in such that they not only practise things deserving of death, but take pleasure in (or consent with) those who do them (Romans 1:32). Here in Christian professors it is the kindred enormity of a total disrelish for good. Just as among the Jews, impiety destroys the moral landmarks: "woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!" (Isaiah 5:20). Surely the Lord's name is blasphemed on their account who misrepresent His name.
This introduces another shade of wickedness, the "traitorous", or "traitors", that form of malice which betrays others to ruin without scruple. Of this bitter baseness among the twelve the Lord tasted as none ever did or could; and here we are warned of it as a characteristic to prevail in Christendom, existing even then here and there when the apostle wrote, but like the rest to spread and deepen as the last days linger out more and more. So it was and will be among the Jews before the end comes; as here it will be among those who corrupt the gospel.
"Heady", or "headstrong", again describes those who rush inconsiderately and determinedly in pursuit of their own will, whatever it may cost to gratify it, rather than the habit of abandoning even to destruction others who confide in them. We can easily understand that the gospel, in an unexampled way and measure imparts knowledge to the most unlettered; and that this acts as powerfully as injuriously on those who, really ignorant of themselves and of God, have no living sense of grace toward others, any more than they feel the need of it for themselves. From some such source as this appears to flow .. the "headstrong"; as these are hard by the "puffed-up", or high-minded souls, besotted with self-conceit: no less cruel than contemptible evils in those who, as ostensible heirs of the kingdom, ought to know the blessedness of being poor in spirit, of mourning, of meekness, of hungering and thirsting after righteousness, of being merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers, as well as counting it all joy when persecuted for righteousness', and above all for Christ's, sake (Matthew 5:1-11). Alas! headiness and highmindedness leave no room for any one of those precious qualities which our Lord forms in all that are His. Do not both now prevail wherever you look in Christendom?
And who can deny the manifest and extraordinary development, not now for the first time, of course, but more than ever in our own day, of "pleasure-loving rather than God-loving", among those who would be deeply offended if they were not owned as Christians? For when in this world's sad history was ever known such an incessant and wide-spread whirl of excitement, in change and travel, in sweet sounds, pleasant pictures, and sensational tales, to speak of nothing lower in sensuous enjoyment? No doubt, steam and telegraph have circumstantially helped on this eager and universal pursuit of pleasure, rather than a care for God and for His will, but in this closing age of indifference pleasure-loving in Christendom is remarkably confirming His word.
Time was when superstition allied to liking for adventure undertook pilgrimages, and organized crusades, neither of these in the least expressing the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ, but either of them nobler naturally than pleasure-trips, private or common, to the most renowned, strange, or distant lands, perhaps round the world even, craving after some new and piquant fillip for minds jaded and listless. Need we add the love of gain and even sometimes of gambling brought into bazaars and the like in aid of avowedly Christian objects, with every natural or worldly attraction to swell the funds? What shall we say, if we may say anything, of the pleas for "muscular Christianity", a phrase which to pious ears may seem a mere worldly jest, but which others take in sober seriousness as a right thing and commendable, though only to be defended by the sheerest perversion of God's word?
For truly the Holy Spirit here says of all these characters of evil, "having a form of godliness, but having denied the power thereof." In this lies the peculiar heinousness of it all. None can wonder that the unrighteous should do unrighteously still, or that the filthy should make himself filthy still. The horror is that those who under the name of the Lord put forth the highest claim should neither practise righteousness, nor be sanctified still. For it were better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than baying known to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, A dog turning back to his own vomit, and, A washed sow to wallowing in mire (2 Peter 2:20-21). If you wish to find all these unchristian evils in a plain and concentrated form without a blush, nowhere can they be so readily found as in that which arrogates to itself the name of "Christian." Yet those who, in our own land as well as over the world have the evidence of this before them habitually, can see in it nothing that defiles, but claim it to be undefiled, because their own mind and conscience are both defiled.
But God is not mocked, and the apostle exhorts to faithfulness. He had already called Timothy to know what the mass of Christians now refuse to learn. But this is not enough: "And from these turn away." It was then the duty, when such persons appeared, to have nothing to do with them; now that the evil is incomparably more developed, that duty is still more imperious. Yet I am grieved to notice the strange error of one* who has written on the subject with surpassing ability. He will have it that the apostolic injunction, rightly translated, means that Timothy was to "turn these away." How any one with any real, however moderate, knowledge of the Greek tongue could so misunderstand a very simple phrase, it is hard to explain or conceive; but such is the fact. No version known to me sustains any such view. The Authorized Version is substantially, the Revised Version quite, correct, unless it be in giving "also" for "and", verse 5, as is done here in connection with "know" in verse 1. It is not authoritative action, still less ecclesiastical dealing, but apostolic direction for the conscience of Timothy (or in principle of any "man of God") who would not endorse what is hateful to the Lord and corrupting for souls.
* J. A. Bengel in his Gnomon of the New Testament.
That the evils of which the apostle forewarned were then at work appears yet more from the description which follows.
"For of these are they that enter into houses and lead captive silly women, laden with sins, led by various lusts, always learning and never able to come unto knowledge of truth. And in the manner that Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also withstand the truth, men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith. But they shall not advance farther; for their folly shall be very manifest to all, as theirs also became" (vers. 6-9).
It is not enough in the ministry of Christ that one should have good and holy ends before one; the means ought to be as unexceptional as the avowed aim: where it is not so, where the measure adopted to attain the object are unworthy of Christ, it is to be feared that the real end in view is no better. At any rate, and always, the man of God must consider habitually, and with rigour, as before God the ways he pursues, lest the enemy entrap him into the hateful snare of doing evil that good may come, which is sure ere lone to emerge into the blindness of unmitigated evil in both ways and ends, to the deep dishonour of Him Whose name is made to cover all. Oh, what has not been done "to His greater glory"! The day will declare in Christendom at least as great wrongs against God and man, as in heathenism, and with far greater hypocrisy.
"For of these are they that enter into houses, and lead captive silly women, laden with sins, led by various lusts" (ver. 6). The works of the Christian are not to be ἀדבטὰ only, but καλά, not only animated by kindness and benevolence, but characterized by rectitude and comeliness. Nothing can justify underhand manoeuvres: Christ does not ask such service at the hands of any; He repudiates it. "So let your light shine before men that they may see your good (i.e. honourable) works, and glorify your Father that is in heaven" (Matthew 5:16). It was to be as the lamp on the stand shining for all who are in the house. The evil-doer naturally shuns and hates the light, and comes not to the light lest his works should be reproved or shown as they are. But he that does the truth comes to the light that his works may be made manifest that they have been wrought in God (John 3:20-21). How sad when those who profess Christ, the only true Light, are actuated by the spirit of darkness in creeping into the houses (of the saints, I presume) and leading captive silly women!
The fruit of the light is in all goodness and righteousness and truth, and its ways are well-pleasing to the Lord (Ephesians 5:9-10). But to condescend to the path of intrigue, in order to win the weakest ones of the weaker sex, is beneath the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ. Even if those who sought thus to advance the truth were ever so pure-minded, to get thus into houses is indefensible as being, of ill appearance and report: still more if the aim there was to make personal devotees of those so exposed to the snare as the ones whom the apostle brands as "silly women, laden with sins, led by various lusts," even though not necessarily of a gross character. In all ages religious officials have found a ready ear in females, who become effective in their influence on families: not truth, but the leaven of doctrine thus spreads with the greatest rapidity till all become assimilated.
The suited material for this subtle working is that which appeals strongly to nature, while it pretends to be peculiarly superior to it; and no rank and file are so pliant and persuasive as "silly women", who thus seek zealously to make up for the sins with which they are laden, whilst they indulge in new lusts differing from those of the past. Thus have been accomplished disastrous changes in primitive times. Has the enemy left off these devices in our day? Some can remember a picture not unlike the original many years ago, when almost all distinctive truth was thus destroyed most extensively. Are we to flatter ourselves that the self-same way of error, so successful in the past, no matter what the circle, will not be reproduced again and again in the present while the Lord tarries?
But their secret and fleshly ways are never those which the Spirit of truth generates; they suit the propagators of tradition and form, in which the sentiment or the intellect of man can find tangible objects by which to distinguish their own set. We can thus understand the divine wisdom in burying and concealing the burial place of Moses from those who were far from appreciating aright that blessed servant of God when he was alive to speak and act for his Master. And the Lord has Himself warned us that it is the same spirit of unbelief which slew the prophet and the righteous man (who spared not their sins), and yet built and adorned their tombs when they were departed. For this the Jewish scribes and Pharisees gave themselves credit in His day; but the proof of His truth in their hypocrisy soon appeared when He sent unto them apostles and prophets, teachers and preachers, some of whom they killed, as others they persecuted from city to city; so that all righteous blood from Abel downwards might fall on that Christ-rejecting generation, as it will ere long on the still guiltier Babylon, before Jerusalem shall once more, and far more truly and fully, be the holy city; and the house shall be no longer desolate nor theirs only, but the LORD God's; and Israel shall behold their long despised but most gracious and glorious Messiah, blessing Him as He that comes in the name of Jehovah.
But, to return to our painful subject, there is another description of those victims and instruments of evil, which deserves to be weighed: "always learning and never able to come unto knowledge (ἐנίדםשףיν, full knowledge, or acknowledgement) of truth" (ver. 7). With all their quickness of apprehension such women fail in spiritual mind, confounding things that differ, instead of distinguishing them, without which true progress and real knowledge are impossible. It is Christ before the soul, to Whom the written word answers by the power of the Holy Spirit; this only opens the truth and gives courage in its acknowledgement to God's glory. Without it there might be constant occupation of the mind, proud of its acquisitions, but no growth or separative power through the word, nor joying in God through our Lord Jesus, nor ever the ability, as is said here, to come to full knowledge of truth.
The magicians of Egypt are invoked as the pattern of the misleaders; and this remarkably by names otherwise in scripture unknown to us: "And in the manner that Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also withstand the truth, men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith" (ver. 8). Now the manner in which these adversaries wrought was by imitating Moses as far as possible. This they could only do within limits till the power of God rising in its display made it hopeless for them to follow. In Christendom imitation is easier, as it is not a question of miracle, but the semblance of truth; and striking it is that the new and withering seductions of the enemy are characteristically imitations of truth, so close as to deceive, if it were possible, even the elect (as will be the case with the Jews by and by). The old bodies of Christendom contain the foundations of the faith in a great measure; those more showy deceptions hold out higher promise as to the hope of the saints, and the church, and Christian privilege, but they sink far below common orthodoxy or they fail in ordinary righteousness. And no wonder, if their guides are "men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith." Soaring far higher and alluring the sanguine and unstable far more in what is less known, they betray ruinously those blessed and vital truths to which all saints cleave, however ignorant or prejudiced they may be otherwise.
Hence God does not fail to raise up a standard against the foe, and His imperilled saints profit by the warning. So the apostle declares here: "But they shall not advance farther; for their folly shall be very manifest to all, as theirs also became" (ver. 9). The comparison tells no less in the dazzling counterfeit, which was calculated to perplex and mislead, than it does in the exposure of the snare itself. This done, its efficacy for mischief is at an end, and the folly of its authors and advocates is too plain to injure more. Have we not known the enemy thus defeating himself under the mighty hand of God? Let us not forget how much we owe to the watchful grace of our Lord, Who thus vindicates His word and Spirit after man's misuse of both. If Satan cites scripture evilly or falsely, the Lord does not leave scripture for argument, but answers in a way absolutely and at once convincing - "It is written again."
From the unmasking of these various forms of evil, then germinating within the sphere of Christian profession, the apostle turns to the very different path and walk of his fellow-labourer.
"But thou hast followed* closely my teaching, course, purpose, faith, long-suffering, love, patience, persecutions, sufferings; what things befell me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured, and out of all the Lord delivered me. Yea, and all that desire to live piously in Christ Jesus shall be persecuted. But wicked men and impostors shall advance for the worse, deceiving and being deceived" (vers. 10-13).
* The main witnesses ACFG support the aorist, the majority give the perfect, as in 1 Timothy 4:6 (with but small exception), which has greater present force.
It was energy of unfeigned faith and love, acting by the Spirit in the life which is in Christ Jesus, which thus drew out Timothy. Unbelief stumbled and made not only difficulties but opposition to that which attracted and sustained the young fellow-labourer, because it was to his soul the living witness to a rejected but glorified Christ. He was not ashamed, as were many, of the testimony of our Lord or of Paul His prisoner. Whatever might be the timidity of his character naturally, in faith he found strength, giving glory to God. The promise of life was an assured reality, and he too suffered evil along with the gospel according to the power of God, Who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before ages of time, but now manifested by the appearing of our Saviour (2 Timothy 1:8-9). Christ in short decided and drew him onward in a path otherwise impossible.
Now Paul's "teaching" has justly the first place in that which acted on Timothy: not truth only, but cast in the mould of the apostle's mind, heart, and moral force, where the person and heavenly glory of Christ governed with a power unequalled. And this in the main we also have as God was pleased to give it permanence for our instruction, and' cheer, and warning, and general blessing in Paul's Epistles, to speak of no more, though we cannot have what Timothy enjoyed so largely - speaking "mouth to mouth," as another apostle expresses it who laid great store on such communications, as compared with paper and ink and pen (2 John 1:12; 3 John 1:13-14). Yet each has its excellency, and all is surely ordered in its season; so that, while recognizing what Timothy had for the help and furnishing of his soul, we can own the wisdom of the Lord in our portion.
Then the "course" or "conduct" of the apostle had its great value as a practical expression of the truth which swayed his judgments and feelings habitually. There is no better comment on the inspired word than that found in the walk of those subject to it, whether individually or in the assembly. If this be true generally of all the spiritual and intelligent, so far as they are led in obedience, what a bright illumination of Holy Writ was there not, in one privileged as Timothy was, perhaps beyond all others, with the intimacy of the great apostle so long and so variously!
"Purpose" shone in that life of ceaseless serving the Lord Christ with a splendour which none but the malignant could misinterpret, none but the dark and blind overlook. From the time that there fell from his eyes, as it were scales, and he was filled with the Holy Spirit, Paul was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared to both those of Damascus first, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the country of Judea, and also the Gentiles, that they should repent and believe the gospel (Acts 26:19-20). He preached the kingdom boldly; he shrank not from declaring the whole counsel of God. And in the midst of these labours night and day, he could say, as perhaps no other with equal truth, "One thing [I do], forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward calling of God in Christ Jesus" (Php 3:13, l 4).
Practical, present, living "faith" it was that kept alive the holy fire in the heart of the apostle; and this accordingly is here pointed out for fixing its place on Timothy's memory, and stimulating him to perseverance in the like path. For indeed, as there is but one path, even Christ, for all that are His, so it is faith alone that finds and pursues it with patience: we walk by faith, not by sight, as by faith we stand. No other means suits the children of God, and none other glorifies God Himself, Who would be owned immediately by them, as they thus derive fresh blessing in the enjoyment of His light and love. If "faith" be then the ever ready, ever needed, means of direction and power for all, how much more for those who have the added and most trying service of the Lord in the word! What did it not recall to His genuine child in faith of calm reckoning on God against all appearances? What of gracious answers even beyond expectation? For God will not be outdone even by the truest heart, and grace will ever flow beyond the faith which it creates and exercises.
"Long-suffering" too had Timothy seen in Paul as nowhere else. For in truth it is no fruit derived from earthly source but that which comes of Him Who was and is its fulness, now on the throne of God. Least of all was it natural to Saul of Tarsus, who speaks of himself as once a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious, that is, a man characterized by insolent overbearing. But boundless mercy was shown, and wondrous "long-suffering" was the fruit, in Paul.
"Love" wrought there, love seen and known and proved in Jesus our Lord, love reproduced by the Spirit as the energy of that nature which is light in its principle. For if all the godly become by grace partakers of divine nature, in him who was given to write 1 Cor. 13, love wrought mightily. Nor if knowledge spoke haughtily and to the stumbling of the weak, did any man deal so trenchantly with it as he who beyond all his fellows knew all mysteries and all knowledge? Timothy truly had a rich sample of "love" before his eyes.
"Patience" therefore did not fail, though put to the proof in the utmost variety of form and degree. As we read 2 Cor. 11, we think a little of what Timothy had beheld or known in so many details. "The signs of an apostle" were wrought among the saints in all patience, by both signs and wonders, and by works of power.
This is followed by "persecutions", and "sufferings", as the trials in which the "patience" or endurance was manifested. And the same chapter (2 Cor. 11) accordingly furnishes in the most unobtrusive way such a roll as no hero of the world could match. Yet the apostle was pained to the quick to say a word about them; "I am become foolish," he said; "ye have compelled me." For him it was a real pain to recount what they should have otherwise learned or remembered; though he could add, "I take pleasure in weakness, in insults, in necessities, in persecutions, in straits, for Christ's sake."
Timothy was thoroughly acquainted with what things happened to the apostle at Antioch (of Pisidia), and at Iconium, and at Lystra. It was in this order that persecution befell Paul; in the reverse that he and Barnabas made their return journey, establishing the souls of the disciples converted a little before (Acts 14). In all these sufferings and opposition Jews played the guilty part of inciting the Gentiles against the word of life and those who preached it. Hence, when they came to close quarters, stoning was the method employed. What occupation for the ancient people of God! What anguish for him who so loved them, even when not a blow fell on him! But if the apostle recalled the vivid recollections of Timothy, for he was of Lycaonia, and brought to the knowledge of Christ through the apostle at this very time, he could say, "What persecutions I endured, and out of all the Lord delivered me."
A twofold statement concludes this part of the Epistle, which those who look for progress in Christendom as a whole would do well to ponder. For the apostle speaks as generally as he lays down the truth positively. Not a hint does he give of a temporary interruption to be followed by blessing and triumph for the gospel. That the earth shall be full of the knowledge of Jehovah, as the waters cover the sea, is certain; that the nation shall seek unto the Messiah, and that His resting place shall be glorious, cannot be questioned by the believer; but none of these things shall be before He shall smite the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips slay the wicked. Till then, however truly the gospel may save individuals here and there, or even affect communities, especially where it is mixed up with law and rendered earthly, - till the Lord is revealed in judgment of the quick, those that are in heart godly must suffer, and evil men must advance to greater impiety. Partial appearances deceive; the word of God abides for ever.
Thus, on the one hand, the apostle declares, "Yea, and all that desire to live piously in Christ Jesus shall be persecuted" (ver. 12). It is wise, and even incumbent on saints, to make up their minds thus to suffer for righteousness, and for Christ. They will then think it not strange concerning the fiery trial among them which comes upon them to prove them, as though a strange thing happened unto them.
On the other hand, they will not be appalled that the world, yea, the professing mass, grows distinctly worse as a whole in the face of every testimony of God's grace and truth. On the contrary, they will cleave the more to the word which the prevalence of evil only confirms, while conversion goes on actively. "But evil men and impostors shall advance for the worse, deceiving and being deceived" (ver. 13). Can words more graphically, as well as accurately, set out the real character of the progress for him who bows to scripture? If we refuse this subjection, a blinding power is already upon us, and we are led astray ourselves as we mislead others in the measure of the error and of our influence.
Timothy was not to be given to change. Truth remains immutable, though the most spiritual have to appropriate it increasingly: not the church, nor an apostle, but Christ is the Truth objectively, and the Holy Spirit as inward power. That wicked men and the jugglers of imposture should shift is to be expected; for all have not faith, which lives and grows and thrives in subjection to the truth. Hence the charge that follows: -
"But abide thou in those things which thou didst learn and wast persuaded of, knowing of whom thou didst learn [them]; and that from a babe thou knowest the sacred writings that are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. Every scripture [is] God-inspired, and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction that is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, furnished thoroughly unto every good work" (vers. 14-17).
There is no surer indication of the Holy Spirit's energy than when an active mind (and the revealed truth does give holy freedom and unbounded exercise) abides in the things we are taught of God. Some beyond question are more than others prone to doubt because of difficulties, speculative or practical. Happy the heart which faces every word and fact without a thought of abandoning those things which it was once persuaded of on divine authority, or, as the apostle puts it here, "Knowing of whom thou didst learn them"!
If the plural form (τίםשν) be preferred, which certainly rests on very good and ancient witnesses, it was Paul not alone but with the rest of those whom the Lord chose to bear testimony to the grace and truth which came by Jesus Christ. The inspired men of the New Testament presented an entirely new and deep and heavenly revelation, answering to His displayed person and work, and the relationships dependent on Christ, for which the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven gives energy. Thus the power is to obey. Timothy, like every other, was sanctified by the Spirit to obedience (1 Peter 1:2). He had a most honourable position, but no licence to act without the word of the Lord, Who sent the Spirit to guide into all truth, as well what was coming as what concerned more directly Christ and the church in actual testimony. He was thus glorifying Christ, reporting all, as only He could, to the saints, and this by chosen witnesses, so that our prime joy, not to say duty, is to believe and obey. Doubtless God has set in the church, as it has pleased Him: first, these; next, those; and so on, in no small variety of place according to His sovereign will and unerring wisdom; but obedience of faith runs through the life of each, if they walk and serve according to God. And this the apostle is here laying down for Timothy with the utmost care. Can we think that the exhortation was not deeply needed? and the more, because it is given in an Epistle intended for the perpetual remembrance, not only of such as might share Timothy's service, but of all who seek to please the Master.
Nor was it now only that Timothy had reverently listened to the words of God. To thousands of saints and to many a minister of the word, from among the Gentiles, it was a new thing; and the gospel received into the heart opened the way for valuing and profiting by the ancient oracles of God. But with him it was a different order, though the result may be substantially similar. But, in fact, the apostle reminds him, "That from a babe thou knowest the sacred writings that are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus" (ver. 15).
It is painful to observe the slight done to the scriptures in Christendom, even where Protestant feeling prevails. The importance of the Bible for the poor, many will allow who are far from availing themselves of it on their own account. Not only does Popery proscribe the simple and habitual reading of it (as if the book of God were rank. poison for man because it is so sure to undermine and overthrow Romanist dogma and practice), but not a few who count themselves far removed from the Latin church discourage that heed to it from the earliest years, which is here, by the highest authority, commended in Timothy. It is in vain to decry it as "letter", or to discourage the young as unrenewed. He who was inspired to lay down the safeguards against the difficulties of the last days, does not hesitate unqualifiedly to express his satisfaction in that which their wisdom ventures to disparage. This should be enough for faith, if a Coleridge joins hands with sacerdotal pride on one hand, or with rationalistic indifference on the other, in attacking what they dislike as "bibliolatry."
The true and humble-hearted have but to go on unmoved in the midst of these changing fashions of hostile opinion, cleaving to God and to the word of His grace, while eschewing every plausible plea of man. For the true ground is not man's right to the scriptures, or man's competency to interpret them, but God's title to deal in the Bible with every heart and conscience, which the Holy Spirit alone can guide into any and all truth. Those who interdict the free reading of scripture are blindly striving to hinder God from addressing Himself to man. Let them judge how great such a sin is against God as well as man. They may reason now, but what will they say another day for their rebellion against His rights? Surely the apostle was as far as possible from rationalism. He did not believe in the power of man to make divine truth his own. Even the sacred writings are only able to make wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus. This however they are. Without faith in Christ salvation and wisdom from above are alike impossible.
But we are carried a great deal farther in verses 16, 17: "Every scripture [is] God-inspired, and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, for instruction that is in righteousness; that the man of God may be complete, furnished thoroughly unto every good work." No more suited, valuable, and weighty sentence appears here or in any part of the word of God. There are kindred sentiments of exceeding moment, which do ever fit in most appropriately where they occur; but the one before us is clear, full, and impressive in the highest degree. It gives divine character to every part of the Bible, excluding of course such words or clauses as can be shown on adequate evidence to be interpolations.
First, it is important to observe that the subject of the opening sentence is anarthrous. The sense therefore is not "all", but "every", scripture. If the article had been inserted, the words which follow would have predicated that which is said of the known existing body of holy writ. The absence of it has the effect of so characterizing every part of the inspired word to come, as well as extant. Is it scripture? Then it is God-inspired and profitable, etc. This is affirmed of every atom.
Next, it is known that versions and critics of reputation differ somewhat where the unexpressed but necessarily implied copula should be inserted. It is not always seen that this is a comparatively slight difference. The substantial sense abides. The Revised Version, with several, prefers to render thus: "Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable...." The Authorized Version with others have it thus: "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable...." I have no doubt it is more correctly translated above: "Every scripture [is] God-inspired and profitable...." What is common here to the Authorized Version and mine is that the apostle asserts inspiration by God and profitableness about scripture; whereas, according to the Revisers, divine inspiration is assumed, and its profit seems rather awkwardly asserted, "is also...." After all, the difference is practically small. In the Revised Version that is assumed for divine inspiration which in the other is directly affirmed in the first place, with defined and varied profit following after.
Scripture then, that is, everything which comes under the designation of scripture, is inspired of God; not merely holy men of God spoke, borne by - under the power of - the Holy Spirit; but every thing written in the Spirit with a view to permanent guidance of the faithful is inspired of God. Thus simply believed must necessarily exclude error from holy writ; for who would say that God inspires mistakes, great or small? Those who so think cannot really believe that every scripture is inspired of God. Time was when God's word was of course inspired but not yet written; now it is in infinite mercy written by His gracious power Who knew the end from the beginning, and would provide an adequate and perfect and permanent standard for every need spiritually on earth. Hence it is written, and, to be divinely authoritative, is inspired of God: not the sacred letters of the Old Testament only, but the writings of the apostles and prophets of the New Testament the foundation on which the church is built (Ephesians 2:20).
Indeed, it is the prophetic character of gift which especially is in exercise for writing scripture. The apostles as such governed as well as began the church. But some were prophets who were not apostles; and the church or assembly was built on the foundation of both. This explains the true source of the authority in the holy writings of Mark and Luke. To attribute it to Peter for the one, and to Paul for the other, betrays the worthless character of early tradition, such as appears in the speculations of Eusebius of Caesarea. For whatever may be the value of his history of his own times, or of those not long before, his account of the apostolic age has more value as a contrast with the inspired record, short as this is, than as a true reflection. It even abounds with plain ignorance and error, and never rises to the spiritual bearings of what he sets before us. The inspired account in what is called "The Acts of the Apostles" is impressed with the dignity, depth, power, and design of scripture, as decidedly as any other book of the Bible. A similar remark applies to Luke's Gospel, as well as to that of Mark. They are scripture, and inspired of God, each having an aim laid bare by the contents, wholly distinct from that of Matthew and of John, yet no less certainly divine; each therefore contributing its own elements of profit proper to each, and found in none other as in them, though others furnish what is not therein. This is characteristic of inspiration, and is found nowhere but in scripture.
It is full of interest to observe that in 1 Timothy 5:18 the apostle quotes Luke as scripture. Some might hastily affirm that the last clause of the verse was drawn from the apostle Matthew, (Matthew 10:10). But a closer inspection proves that Paul cites from Luke 10:7, though he who disbelieves in verbal inspiration might cavil and evade its force. He, however, who is assured on God's authority that inspired men spoke, not in words which man's wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Spirit teacheth (1 Corinthians 2:13), gladly owns that the apostle of the Gentiles cites literally from the Gospel of his own fellow-labourer. It is as if God meant to confirm the principle by Paul's not only quoting Luke, but quoting his Gospel no less than Deut. 35: 4 as "scripture". He knew and refuted beforehand the sceptical theories which blindly seek to deny the authority of both.
We all know that Peter in his Second Epistle (2 Peter 3:16) speaks of all Paul's Epistles as "scripture". This again is beautiful in that late communication of the great apostle of the circumcision. But it is not so generally seen, though it is no less certain, that in the preceding verse Peter renders testimony to Paul's having written to the believing Jews, who were the objects of both his own Epistles. Thus we have it on inspired authority that not Barnabas, nor Silas, nor Apollos, nor any other then Paul wrote the Epistle to the Hebrews. A few words of inspiration are decisive against endless argument.
Verses 10, 11 had reminded Timothy of his special opportunities and his personal knowledge of the apostle's teaching, course, and life, individual and ministerial, with a solemn supplement (vers. 12, 13) as to the godly and the wicked, whether in resemblance or in contrast. Verse 14 is a grave exhortation for Timothy thereon to abide in those things which he thus learnt and was assured of, based on his knowledge of their character and authority from whom he learnt them, as well as on his familiarity from infancy with the ancient but living oracles of God, which, though of themselves incapable of quickening, or of imparting spiritual power, were able to render him wise unto salvation through faith that is in Christ Jesus (ver. 15).
Then in verse 16, comes a dogmatic conclusion of the subject, as plain as it is momentous, in the form of an apothegm which most naturally conveys what the Authorized Version reflects, save the opening word which, better translated, enlarges its scope considerably: "Every scripture [is] inspired of God, and profitable...." It thus covers all that might be added by inspiration of-God, as well as what had been so given already. It expels from the field not only the bold cavillers at the divine word, but with no less peremptoriness the unworthy, though professedly orthodox, apologists, who surrender the holy scriptures, either in detail all over the Bible, or, sometimes, in whole books, through a compromise with the adversary.
For what is scripture useful or "profitable"? We must not regard the passage as an exception to the general principle which governs all the Bible. It lays down only what is in harmony with the context. Nor is any other place to be put beyond this in wisdom as well as power and interest. We are thus compelled to eschew partial search, if we would seek really to understand the mind of God revealed in His written word; we must read and study the scriptures as a whole. With Christ before us we shall not peruse in vain. Beginning at Moses and all the prophets our risen Lord expounded in all the scriptures the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27); and this said of the Old Testament is yet more evidently true of the New. We err, therefore, when He, the constant object of the inspiring Spirit, is not our object; but the manner is as different as the books which compose the Bible; for each book has its own peculiar design, and all contribute to form a perfect whole. "Profitable", accordingly, is limited by accordance with the character of this Epistle. Other uses are shown elsewhere.
First in order is the profit of every scripture "for teaching", or doctrine. Of this there cannot be a finer or richer instance than the Epistle to the Hebrews, wherein the grand truths of the gospel are elicited in a way equally simple and profound from the words and figures of the Old Testament. Can any means be found so well suited to help the believer to its clearer understanding and application in other parts? One truth rightly apprehended prepares the way for another. For no new truth supersedes that which you have already, but rather confirms it and helps to more.
Next stands its use "for conviction". The Epistle to the Galatians may be taken as a salient example. See how admirably the apostle employs "the blessing" and "the curse" in Galatians 3, to illustrate the promise and the law, which these saints were confounding as millions since have done yet more. Take again the Seed, not many but one, in the same chapter; and the principle of a mediator in the law confronted with One God promising and sure to accomplish. Take in Galatians 4 the still more evident application of the two sons of Abraham to deliverance from the law, with prophecy brought in to illustrate, and the final sentence from Genesis 21:10 to convince the Judaizers of their ruinous mistake.
Thirdly, comes "for correction". Here we may refer to the frequent and telling use of the Old Testament in the Epistles to the Corinthians as a signal illustration. Almost every chapter of the First Epistle furnishes samples, of which 1 Corinthians 10 is brimful.
Fourthly, who can mistake the Epistle to the Romans as the brightest and most palpable specimen of scripture used "for instruction in righteousness"? And in this, as in the others, not only is the Old Testament so applied with divine skill, but its own supplies of instruction are to the same end.
Thus is the aim distinctly and perfectly met: "that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly fitted unto every good work." So it was in Timothy's case, so also for every other who follows a like path. It is the Holy Spirit's injunction, expressly in view of grievous times in the last days.
For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
Now as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.
But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men, as theirs also was.
But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience,
Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.
Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.
But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.
But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;
And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
All 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, throughly furnished unto all good works.