2 Timothy 3:2-5
For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,…
1. What kind of self-love is it which St. Paul does here so severely censure?
2. By what manner of influence self-love makes times and seasons become perilous.
3. What times the apostle means by the Last Days; and whence it is that self-love operates with such successful prevalence in those days as to render them the Evil Days.
4. What reflections are fit to be made by us, upon occasion of this argument in relation to our age, and to ourselves, and our present affairs, in order to that which all ought to fast and pray, and labour for the stability of our times and the peace of Jerusalem?
I. To consider WHAT KIND OF SELF-LOVE ST. PAUL SPEAKS AGAINST as the fountain of public mischief; for there is a self-love which is a very natural and a very useful principle. No man ever yet hated his own flesh; no man, without the loving of himself, does either preserve or improve himself. If Almighty God would not have suffered men to love themselves, He would not have moved them to their duty by their personal benefit, and especially by so great a recompense as is that of life eternal. It would conduce to the felicity of men, even in this world, if they truly loved themselves; for then they would not waste their fortunes by an unaccountable profuseness, nor destroy their bodies by the extravagances of rage, and luxury, and lust. The self-love here condemned by St. Paul is that narrow wicked affection which either wholly or principally confines a man to his seeming personal good on earth. An affection which either opposeth all public good, or at least all that public good which comes in competition with man's private advantage. Of such lovers of themselves the apostle gives a very ill character in the words that follow the text. He says of them, in ver. 2, that they are covetous; their heart is like the mouth of a devouring gulf, which sucks in all into itself with deep and unsatiable desire. He continues to mark them, in ver. 3, as persons without natural affection, as people who have no bowels for the miserable part of mankind; as such who rejoice at a public wreck, not considering the loss of others, nor the dismal circumstances of it; but minding with their whole intention the profit which they may gather up for their inhuman selves. He adds, in the same verse, that they are despisers of those who are good. They vilify men of a public spirit.
II. This straight and uncharitable affection is of so MALIGNANT AN INFLUENCE, that where it prevails no age can be calm, no government stable, no person secure. And that it is of such perilous consequence may be demonstrated on this manner. God, who is good and does good, designed, that whilst man was here on earth, it should be competently well with him in case of his obedience, though He intended not to give him all his portion in this life. He knew that men could not subsist apart with such conveniences as they might obtain by being knit into regular societies. He, therefore, united them in civil and sacred bodies, that by conjoined strength they might procure those benefits which, in a separate state, and by their single selves, they could not come at. For, consider, how void of comfort a life of entire solitude would have been to man; with what a life of fear would they have been crucified who had stood perpetually by themselves on their own defence; with what a life of labour and meanness would men have been burdened if every one of them must have been his own only servant; if every one had been obliged to build and plant, and till the ground, and provide food and physic and garments for himself by his own solitary power. And how could a man serve himself in any of these necessary offices in times of sickness, lameness, delirium, and decrepit old age? To such a perilous and laborious life as I have been speaking of, indiscreet and vicious self-love tends; for as far as men do mind and seek themselves alone, so far they dissolve society and lessen its benefits, being rather in it than of it. So that the soul which animates society, whose advantages are so considerable, is the great and generous spirit of charity. That violates no compacts, that raises no commotions, that interrupts no good man's peace, that assaults no innocent man's person, that invades no man's property, that grinds no poor man's face, that envies no man, that supplants no man, that submits its private convenience to the public necessities. Concerning this vile affection, St. Paul taught that it would possess the men of the last days.
III. To consider WHAT TIMES HE MEANS BY THOSE DAYS, and in what sense he speaks of self-love as the distemper of the last days, seeing it has been the disease of every age. By the last days he means the last age of the world, the age of the Messiah, not excluding that part of it in which he himself lived. There were several precedent periods: that of the fathers before the flood, that of the patriarchs before the Law, that of Moses and the prophets under the Law. But after the age of the Messiah, time itself shall be no more. To this age all evil self-love cannot be confined, for that dotage had a being in the world from the very beginning of it. The murder of Cain was so early, that he sinned without example; and from his selfishness his murder proceeded. We therefore misunderstand St. Paul, if we interpret him as speaking, not of the increase, but of the being; of self-love; for it is not its existence, but its abundance, which he foretells. What he wrote has been true in fact, from the times of Demas and Diotrephes, to this very hour. Light is come into the world, a glorious gospel which shines everywhere; and men love darkness rather than light, and shut up themselves in their own hard and rough and private shells. Selfishness cannot be the direct natural effect of the gospel of Christ, which, of all other dispensations, depresseth the private under the public good. The age of the Messiah is the best of ages in His design, and in the means of virtue which He gives the world; and if the men of it be worse than those of other generations, the greater is the aggravation of their guilt, whilst, under a gospel of the widest charity, they exercise the narrowest selfishness. But, however, so it is: whether it be that wicked men, by a spirit of contradiction, oppose charity where they are most earnestly pressed to it; or that the devil, having but a short time, is the more passionately industrious in promoting the interests of his kingdom; or that the further men are from the age of Divine revelations, the less firmly they believe them. It concerns us then —
IV. TO MAKE SERIOUS REFLECTIONS UPON THIS ARGUMENT, and to suffer our selves to be touched with such deep remorse for the guilt of our partiality, that God may be appeased, and our sins pardoned, and our lives reformed, and that perilous times may be succeeded by many prosperous days. And —
1. Let us give glory to God, and take shame to ourselves, upon the account of that selfish principle which hath long wrought among us, and still worketh.
2. May we not only bewail but amend this great defect in our nature, and in our civil and Christian duty.
(1) The regaining of a public spirit is at all times worthy our care. We can do no greater thing than to "follow God, who is concerned for all, as if they were but one man; and for every single person, as if he were a world." God hath disposed all things in mutual subserviency to one another: the light, the air, the water, are made for common good; and because they are common, they are the less, but they ought, for that reason, to be the more esteemed. There is not an humble plant that grows to itself, or a mean ex that treads out the corn merely for his own service; and shall man be the only useless part of the creation? It is a most unworthy practice, upon the account of self-interest, to multiply the moral perils of the world, whilst there are inconveniences enough in insensible Nature. It is enough that the natural seasons are tempestuous; men's passions should not raise more storms. It is enough that famine can destroy so many; uncharitableness should not do it. What is it that is worthy the daily thoughts and the nightly studies of a man of under standing, and of an excellent spirit? Is it the supplanting of a credulous friend, or the oppressing of an helpless neighbour? Alas! these are designs so base and low, that he who calls himself a man should not stoop to them. But that which is worthy of a man is the service of his God, his Church, his country; the generous exposing of himself when a kingdom is in hazard.
(2) A public spirit, as it is worthy our care at all times, so at all times it needs it. For it requires the utmost application of our minds, seeing self-love insinuates with great art and subtlety into all our designs and actions.
(Thomas Tenison, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,